Background: Asthma prevalence rates are high, and may be increasing in the Western world, particularly among children. The aim of this study was to evaluate the longer-term social and economic consequences of having asthma as a child and to determine whether adverse consequences are more severe for poorer children.
Methods: Results from published and unpublished, quantitative and qualitative studies were synthesized narratively to examine the impact of childhood-onset asthma on school attendance, academic achievement and employment in adulthood. The question of whether the impact differed for different social groups was also examined.
Findings: Twenty-nine good quality studies were identified, including in total 12 183 children with asthma or wheeze. Compared with asymptomatic children, those with asthma missed more days of school (additional absence as a result of asthma ranged from 2.1 to 14.8 days). Studies of academic achievement found that children with asthma performed as well as their healthy peers. The existing evidence on labour market performance is sparse, but there is an indication that people with asthma during childhood experience disadvantage in later employment. In an examination of consequences by social position, children with asthma from deprived areas were more likely to miss school than their more affluent peers, and minority ethnic children were also more likely to have poor school attendance. The only qualitative study suggested that children with asthma strove to participate fully in every aspect of their daily lives.
Interpretation: Although asthma limits children's daily activities and affects their social activities, this research synthesis found little evidence of major, adverse long-term social and economic consequences in studies reviewed. Further longitudinal research using comparison groups is needed to fill key gaps in the existing evidence base.