Socioeconomic status, number of siblings, and respiratory infections in early life as determinants of atopy in children

Epidemiology. 1997 Sep;8(5):566-70. doi: 10.1097/00001648-199709000-00015.


Asthma and allergic disorders have been on the increase in recent decades, especially among children living in affluent countries; some aspects of the "Western" way of life may explain this trend. We evaluated the relation of aeroallergen skin test reactivity with socioeconomic status, number of siblings, and respiratory infections in early life. We examined a total of 2,226 schoolchildren, ages 7-11 years, in three areas of Lazio, Italy. Skin prick tests were performed to assess atopic status, and self-administered questionnaires were completed by the parents. The prevalence of prick test positivity was greater among children whose fathers were in the highest educational level than among those in the lowest [prevalence ratio (PR) = 1.58; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.21-2.06]. There was also a lower prevalence of atopy among larger sibships (PR = 0.38 for subjects with four or more siblings vs those without siblings; 95% CI = 0.14-0.99). A history of bronchitis or bronchiolitis before age 2 years was weakly associated with an increased risk of atopy, whereas a history of pertussis or pneumonia was not. Both the effect of father's education and the influence of larger sibship size remained when we adjusted for several potential confounding factors, including respiratory infections in early life. We infer that higher socioeconomic status and lower sibling number are determinants of atopy in this Italian population. Protection arising from early severe respiratory infections does not explain this association, although we cannot exclude a role for other viral infections.

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / etiology*
  • Incidence
  • Intradermal Tests
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / complications*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires