Background Studies of immigrants suggest that the environment during fetal life and duration of residence in the host country might influence the development of asthma. Little is known about the importance of the timing of the exposure in the host country and whether migrants might be especially vulnerable in certain age windows.
Objective We compared the reported prevalence of asthma between young white and south Asian women in the United Kingdom, and investigated associations with country of birth and age at immigration.
Methods A questionnaire on atopic disorders was posted to 2380 south Asian and 5796 white young mothers randomly sampled in Leicestershire. Data on ethnicity were also available from maternity records. Data were analysed using multivariable logistic regression and a propensity score approach.
Results The reported prevalence of asthma was 10.9% in south Asian and 21.8% in white women. South Asian women who migrated to the United Kingdom aged 5 years or older reported less asthma (6.5%) than those born in the United Kingdom or who migrated before age 5 (16.0%), with an adjusted odds ratio of 0.38 [95% Confidence Interval 0.23–0.64, P<0.001]. For those who migrated aged over 5 years, the prevalence did not alter with the duration of residence in the United Kingdom. Current exposure to common environmental risk factors had relatively little effect on prevalence estimates.
Conclusion These data from a large population-based study support the hypothesis that early life environmental factors influence the risk of adult asthma.