Background: It has been hypothesised that the rise in childhood asthma in the developed world could result at least in part from the increasing exposure of children to toxic chlorination products in the air of indoor swimming pools.
Objectives: Ecological study to evaluate whether this hypothesis can explain the geographical variation in the prevalence of asthma and other atopic diseases in Europe.
Methods: The relationships between the prevalences of wheezing by written or video questionnaire, of ever asthma, hay fever, rhinitis, and atopic eczema as reported by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), and the number of indoor chlorinated swimming pools per inhabitant in the studied centres were examined. Associations with geoclimatic variables, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and several other lifestyle indicators were also evaluated.
Results: Among children aged 13–14 years, the prevalence of wheezing by written questionnaire, of wheezing by video questionnaire, and of ever asthma across Europe increased respectively by 3.39% (95% CI 1.96 to 4.81), 0.96% (95% CI 0.28 to 1.64), and 2.73% (95% CI 1.94 to 3.52), with an increase of one indoor chlorinated pool per 100 000 inhabitants. Similar increases were found when analysing separately centres in Western or Northern Europe and for ever asthma in Southern Europe. In children aged 6–7 years (33 centres), the prevalence of ever asthma also increased with swimming pool availability (1.47%; 95% CI 0.21 to 2.74). These consistent associations were not found with other atopic diseases and were independent of the influence of altitude, climate, and GDP per capita.
Conclusions: The prevalence of childhood asthma and availability of indoor swimming pools in Europe are linked through associations that are consistent with the hypothesis implicating pool chlorine in the rise of childhood asthma in industrialised countries.
- GDP, gross domestic product
- ISAAC, International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood
- childhood asthma
- atopic diseases
- hygiene hypothesis
- nitrogen trichloride
- swimming pool
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Published Online First 17 July 2006
Competing interests: none declared