STUDY OBJECTIVES: Several recent reports show a negative association between asthma and family size or birth order, but this association was not detected in data collected between 10 and 30 years ago. This study compared the association between sibship size and asthma in three surveys using the same methodology in 1977, 1985/86, and 1993/94. DESIGN: Cross sectional comparison of the 1977, 1985/86, and 1993/94 surveys. SETTINGS: Study areas in England and Scotland. PARTICIPANTS: Parents of children between 5 to 11 years in England and Scotland were asked about asthma and bronchitis attacks in the last 12 months, and wheeze in their child. Approximately 9000 children participated in each of the surveys. RESULTS: The overall association between asthma, defined as asthma attacks or wheeze, and total number of siblings was not significant (p = 0.22), but an only child had a higher prevalence of asthma than children with siblings (OR 0.87 95% CI 0.76 to 0.98). The interaction between year of survey and sibship size on asthma was not significant (p = 0.36). There was no association between asthma and birth order. A significant interaction between social class and year of survey on asthma was detected (p = 0.004). In the 1993/94 survey children whose fathers had a semi or unskilled manual occupation had a higher prevalence of asthma (16%) than children whose fathers belonged to other social classes (13%). CONCLUSIONS: This study provides only marginal support for a change over time of the association between sibship size and asthma. Based on recent reports the nature of the exposure agent that may explain the association remains controversial. This study suggests a disproportionate increase of asthma in lower social classes.
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