It has been suggested that the number of siblings in a family is a surrogate variable for exposure to early infections. Since there may be an association between early respiratory infections and impaired lung function in later life, the aim of this study was to elucidate the relationship between the number of siblings and pulmonary function. We analyzed pulmonary function data from 677 schoolchildren living in 431 nuclear families. Our results show that forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV(1)) expressed as a percentage of deviation from the predicted values (FVC%, FEV(1)%) increase significantly in line with the number of siblings in a family (FVC%: no sibling = reference, 1 sibling = +1.3%, 2 siblings = +1.9%, 3 siblings = +4.0%, 4 or more siblings = +5.1%; P-value for trend = 0.01; FEV(1)%: no sibling = reference, 1 sibling = +1.6%, 2 siblings = +2.0%, 3 siblings = +4.3%, 4 or more siblings = +6.5%; P-value for trend = 0.007). Pulmonary function values were no more strongly related to the number of older siblings than to the number of younger siblings (difference between the trend for older and younger siblings for FCV%: P = 0.7; FEV(1)%: P = 0.9). The association between pulmonary function and number of siblings can be explained neither by the child's atopic status, prevalence of asthma, or history of pneumonia, nor by former or current cigarette smoke exposure. This suggests that pulmonary function status of the child appears to be related to the number of siblings, and is unlikely to be explained solely by exposure to infections early in life. Our data therefore adds strength to the hypothesis that factors which cause the size of a sibship to influence a child's respiratory health have not yet been adequately explained.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.