Background: We urgently need to take steps towards reducing the prevalence of asthma in countries where the prevalence has become unacceptably high in recent years. Because we do not have any good information about causes of the increased prevalence, we cannot act directly to reverse the trend. Therefore we need to take an indirect approach and use known information of etiologic factors to try to reduce asthma in the next generation, while acknowledging that we may be dealing with different factors from those responsible for the increased prevalence. Any successful strategies will also help to ensure that developing countries do not attain such high rates of asthma in their children in coming years.
Objective: This article summarizes the roles of the risk factors that identify "high-risk" children, that provide insights into mechanisms, or that have potential for primary prevention. The factors with the most potential for primary prevention are allergen exposure, parental smoking, breast-feeding, and dietary fatty acids.
Conclusion: In other health models, information about risk factors has been used in successful public health interventions. It is disappointing that the important risk factors for asthma are well documented but that there have been few trials of primary prevention and no changes in public health policies.