• Aboriginal;
  • asthma;
  • atopy;
  • respiratory;
  • tobacco

Objectives:  To measure the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and atopic disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (indigenous) and non-indigenous children in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Methods:  A two-stage questionnaire survey of children in the ACT with stage two completed for children identified by parents as having respiratory symptoms or asthma in the first stage cross-sectional survey. Participants in the study were: (i) all new entrant primary schoolchildren aged 4−6 years in 1999, 2000 and 2001, 217 being indigenous children and 10 604 being non-indigenous children (80% of eligible); and (ii) Year 1−6 primary schoolchildren in 2000, with 216 being indigenous children and 14 202 being non-indigenous children (52% of eligible). Respiratory symptoms (including recent wheeze and parent-reported asthma) and other factors were measured by parental questionnaire.

Results:  Indigenous kindergarten children had more recent wheeze (21%, odds ratio (OR) 1.4 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.0−2.0)) and parent-reported asthma (24%, OR 1.8 95% CI 1.3−2.5) than non-indigenous children (both 15%). However, indigenous children had less eczema (25%, OR 0.7 95% CI 0.5−0.9) and hayfever (14%, OR 0.7 95% CI 0.5−1.0) than non-indigenous children (32% and 19%, respectively). Among children with respiratory symptoms, the symptom severity did not differ between groups, but indigenous children were exposed to more environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) (63%, OR 3.5 95% CI 2.1−5.9) than non-indigenous children (32%).

Conclusions:  Indigenous children in the ACT have more respiratory morbidity but less of the atopic diseases of hayfever and eczema than non-indigenous children. Whether the respiratory morbidity represents ‘asthma’ or results from increased ETS exposure is unclear and needs to be further explored.