Background The relation between socioeconomic status and allergic diseases in childhood is controversial. Some studies have proposed childhood asthma to be more common in families with low socioeconomic status, while sensitization to airborne allergens seems to be more frequent in individuals with higher socioeconomic status in childhood.
Objective To assess the relation between socioeconomic status and asthma, rhinitis and sensitization in an unselected prospective birth cohort.
Methods Four thousand and eighty-nine families with children born 1994–1996 in predefined areas of Stockholm answered questionnaires on environmental factors, socioeconomic status (parental occupation), and symptoms of allergic disease at birth, 1, 2 and 4 years of age. Blood samples taken at 4 years from 2614 children were analysed for specific IgE to common airborne and food allergens. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for various outcomes in relation to socioeconomic status were estimated with a multiple logistic regression model, adjusting for potential confounders such as heredity for allergic diseases, maternal smoking, short duration of breastfeeding and house construction.
Results There was a decreasing risk of asthma and rhinitis with increasing socioeconomic status. The OR for asthma was 0.33 (95% CI 0.17–0.66) and for rhinitis 0.50 (0.32–0.79) comparing the highest and the lowest socioeconomic groups, with a tendency to stronger effects in those with heredity for allergic disease. The risk of sensitization to food allergens also decreased with increasing socioeconomic status; OR 0.65 (0.41–1.02) in the highest socioeconomic group (Ptrend=0.03), which was not clearly seen for airborne allergens.
Conclusion Asthma, rhinitis and sensitization is more common in lower than in higher socioeconomic groups after adjustment for traditional risk factors. This may be related to additional uncontrolled differences in life style and environmental exposures between the groups, and calls for further studies.