Aims: To examine the prevalence of asthma symptoms in a random population sample of New Zealand adults aged 20-44 years drawn from the general and Maori electoral rolls as phase I of an international study of asthma prevalence.
Methods: Subjects aged 20-44 years in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Wellington and Christchurch, were selected randomly from the electoral rolls and sent a one page screening questionnaire, asking about respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks and asthma treatment. They were also asked to record their ethnic affiliation. Nonresponders were subsequently sent two written reminders followed by a telephone questionnaire where possible.
Results: A response rate of 84% was achieved. The study found a high prevalence of asthma symptoms, with 26% reporting wheezing in the last year, 8% experiencing an attack of asthma in the last year and 9% currently using asthma medication. Females were more likely to have had wheezing in the last year (26.6%) and be on treatment for asthma (9.8%) compared with males (24.7% and 7.5% respectively). Small regional differences were found with more reported symptoms and asthma treatment in Wellington and Christchurch, compared with Auckland and Hawkes Bay. Maori were more frequently symptomatic (35.2%) than nonPolynesian (24.8%) but were no more likely to report an attack of asthma (Maori 9.0%, nonPolynesian 7.7%) or be currently receiving asthma treatment (Maori 10.0%, nonPolynesian 8.6%). Asthma symptoms tended to decline with age in non Maori but increased with age in Maori. Adjustment of prevalence rates by two independent methods suggests that nonresponse bias has not significantly inflated these rates.
Conclusions: The symptoms of asthma and their treatment are common in young New Zealanders, affecting one in three Maori and one in four nonMaori. One in ten of this adult population currently receive asthma treatment.