Objective: To determine the change in prevalence of asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis in Australian schoolchildren between 1993 and 2002.
Design: Questionnaire based survey, using the protocol of the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood.
Setting: Metropolitan Melbourne primary schools within a 20 km radius of the GPO in 1993 and 2002.
Subjects: All children in school years 1 and 2 (ages 6 and 7) attending a random sample of 84 schools in 1993 and 63 schools in 2002.
Main outcome measures: Parent-reported symptoms of atopic disease; treatment for asthma; country of birth.
Results: There was a 26% reduction in the 12-month period prevalence of reported wheeze, from 27.2% in 1993 to 20.0% in 2002. The magnitude of reduction was similar for boys (27%) and girls (25%). The 12-month period prevalence of reported eczema increased from 11.1% in 1993 to 17.2% in 2002, and rhinitis increased from 9.7% to 12.7%. There were reductions in the proportion of children attending an emergency department for asthma in the previous year (3.6% to 2.3%), the proportion admitted to hospital (1.7% to 1.1%) and the proportion taking asthma medication (18.5% to 13.4%). Of those who reported frequent wheeze, there was an increase in the proportion taking regular inhaled steroids (34.5% to 40.9%).
Conclusion: There has been a significant reduction in the prevalence of reported asthma in Melbourne schoolchildren, whereas the prevalence of eczema and allergic rhinitis has continued to increase.