Background: The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Children (ISAAC) Wheezing Module is commonly used to characterize pediatric asthma in epidemiological studies, including nearly all airway cohorts participating in the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) consortium. However, there is no consensus model for operationalizing wheezing severity with this instrument in explanatory research studies. Severity is typically measured using coarsely-defined categorical variables, reducing power and potentially underestimating etiological associations. More precise measurement approaches could improve testing of etiological theories of wheezing illness.
Methods: We evaluated a continuous latent variable model of pediatric wheezing severity based on four ISAAC Wheezing Module items. Analyses included subgroups of children from three independent cohorts whose parents reported past wheezing: infants ages 0-2 in the INSPIRE birth cohort study (Cohort 1; n = 657), 6-7-year-old North American children from Phase One of the ISAAC study (Cohort 2; n = 2,765), and 5-6-year-old children in the EHAAS birth cohort study (Cohort 3; n = 102). Models were estimated using structural equation modeling.
Results: In all cohorts, covariance patterns implied by the latent variable model were consistent with the observed data, as indicated by non-significant χ2 goodness of fit tests (no evidence of model misspecification). Cohort 1 analyses showed that the latent factor structure was stable across time points and child sexes. In both cohorts 1 and 3, the latent wheezing severity variable was prospectively associated with wheeze-related clinical outcomes, including physician asthma diagnosis, acute corticosteroid use, and wheeze-related outpatient medical visits when adjusting for confounders.
Conclusion: We developed an easily applicable continuous latent variable model of pediatric wheezing severity based on items from the well-validated ISAAC Wheezing Module. This model prospectively associates with asthma morbidity, as demonstrated in two ECHO birth cohort studies, and provides a more statistically powerful method of testing etiologic hypotheses of childhood wheezing illness and asthma.