Objectives The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) questionnaires have shown that the prevalence of childhood asthma is increasing worldwide. Although Asian countries used to have lower prevalence rates of allergic disease than Western countries, this prevalence is increasing in several Asian countries. To determine whether the prevalence of childhood asthma is changing in Korean adolescents, we compared findings from nationwide cross-sectional surveys in 1995 and 2000 on populations of middle-school children using the Korean version of the ISAAC questionnaire.
Methods We developed Korean versions of the ISAAC written (WQ) and video (AVQ) questionnaires for allergic diseases. In 1995, the enrolled population consisted of 15 481 children, ages 12–15, and encompassing all three grades in middle school, selected from 34 schools across the nation; the response rate was 97.3%. In 2000, 15 894 children were selected from 31 of the same schools, and the response rate was 96.4%. The SAS system version 8.0 was utilized for all statistical analyses.
Results The WQ showed that the lifetime and 12-month prevalence of wheeze did not change from 1995 to 2000. While the 12-month prevalence rates of sleep disturbed by wheezing and night cough increased, the rates of severe attack of wheezing and exercise-induced wheeze did not change, over this period of time. The lifetime prevalence of asthma diagnosis, however, increased significantly, from 2.7% in 1995 to 5.3% in 2000, as did the 12-month prevalence of asthma treatment, from 1.0% in 1995 to 1.9% in 2000. The AVQ also showed increases in the lifetime and 12-month prevalence rates of wheeze at rest, exercise-induced wheeze, nocturnal wheeze, nocturnal cough, and severe wheeze over this period of time. These were especially because of significant increases in the Provincial cities of Korea. Interestingly, the 12-month prevalence of wheeze was consistently high in Cheju with low air pollution indices, whereas this rate was low in Ulsan and Ansan with very high air pollution indices. Risk factor analysis showed that body mass index (BMI), passive smoking, and living with a dog or cat, but not air pollution, were associated with higher risk of wheeze.
Conclusions In the 5-year period from 1995 to 2000, the prevalence of asthma symptoms has increased in Korean adolescents, much of it because of increases in Provincial Centers. BMI, passive smoking, and living with a dog or cat are important risk factors. Environmental factors other than air pollution may be associated with increases in asthma, especially in Provincial Centers.