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African ancestry, early life exposures, and respiratory morbidity in early childhood


Correspondence: R. Kumar, Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

Children's Memorial Hospital

2300 Children's Plaza, Box No. 60

Chicago, IL 60614, USA.




Racial disparities persist in early childhood wheezing and cannot be completely explained by known risk factors.


To evaluate the associations of genetic ancestry and self-identified race with early childhood recurrent wheezing, accounting for socio-economic status (SES) and early life exposures.


We studied 1034 children in an urban, multi-racial, prospective birth cohort. Multivariate logistic regression was used to evaluate the association of genetic ancestry as opposed to self-identified race with recurrent wheezing (>3 episodes). Sequential models accounted for demographic, socio-economic factors and early life risk factors. Genetic ancestry, estimated using 150 ancestry informative markers, was expressed in deciles.


Approximately 6.1% of subjects (mean age 3.1 years) experienced recurrent wheezing. After accounting for SES and demographic factors, African ancestry (OR: 1.16, 95% CI: 1.02–1.31) was significantly associated with recurrent wheezing. By self-reported race, hispanic subjects had a borderline decrease in risk of wheeze compared with African Americans (OR: 0.44, 95% CI: 0.19–1.00), whereas white subjects (OR: 0.46, 95% CI: 0.14–1.57) did not have. After further adjustment for known confounders and early life exposures, both African (OR: 1.19, 95% CI: 1.05–1.34) and European ancestry (OR: 0.84, 95% CI: 0.74–0.94) retained a significant association with recurrent wheezing, as compared with self-identified race (ORwhites: 0.31, 95% CI: 0.09–1.14; ORhispanic: 0.47, 95% CI: 0.20–1.08). There were no significant interactions between ancestry and early life factors on recurrent wheezing.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance

In contrast to self-identified race, African ancestry remained a significant, independent predictor of early childhood wheezing after accounting for early life and other known risk factors associated with lung function changes and asthma. Genetic ancestry may be a powerful way to evaluate wheezing disparities and a proxy for differentially distributed genetic and early life risk factors associated with childhood recurrent wheezing.

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