Background: Asthma prevalence is generally lower in rural locations with some indication of an urban-rural gradient. However, among children with asthma, certain rural exposures thought to protect against the development of asthma could aggravate the condition. We examined childhood asthma prevalence and related conditions along an urban-rural gradient and also examined the characteristics of those with asthma along the urban-rural gradient.
Methods: In 2013 we completed a cross-sectional survey of 3509 children aged 5-14 years living in various population densities of Saskatchewan, Canada. Location of dwelling was identified as belonging to one of the following population densities: large urban region (approximately 200,000), small urban (approximately 35,000), or rural (small town of <1,500 or farm dweller). Physician-diagnosed asthma and asthma-related symptoms were ascertained from responses in the parental-completed questionnaires.
Results: Of the study population, 69% lived in a large urban region, 11% lived in a small urban centre and 20% were rural dwellers. Overall, asthma prevalence was 19.6% with differences in asthma prevalence with differences between locations (large urban = 20.7%; small urban = 21.5%; rural = 15.1%; p = 0.003). After adjustment for potential confounders, the association between location of dwelling and asthma remained significant. Despite a lower prevalence of asthma in the rural area, the prevalence and risk of ever wheeze and having more than 3 wheezing episodes in the past 12 months among those who reported asthma, was higher in rural locations after adjustment for potential confounders.
Conclusions: The results of this study support the evidence of a difference in childhood asthma prevalence between urban and rural locations and that once a child has asthma, certain rural exposures may aggravate the disease.
Keywords: Allergic conditions; Asthma; Asthma-like symptoms; Children; Morbidity; Prevalence; Rural; Urban; Wheeze.