Socioeconomic factors associated with asthma prevalence and severity among children living in low-income South African communities

Alexa Rachel Yakubovich, Lucie Dale Cluver, Robert Gie


Background. Rates of asthma, poverty and social deprivation are high among young people in South Africa (SA), yet asthma interventions largely remain focused on biomedical factors.

Objective. To investigate associations between socioeconomic factors and childhood asthma.

Methods. We recruited 6 002 children aged 10 - 17 years from six low-income urban and rural sites in three SA provinces. Self-report questionnaires measured health status, sociodemographics and socioeconomic factors. Logistic regression and mediation analyses were used to test models of risk factors for asthma prevalence and severity (frequency of attacks).

Results. Child anxiety (odds ratio (OR) 1.08; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04 - 1.12) and community violence (OR 1.14; 95% CI 1.00 - 1.30) were associated with increased odds of having asthma. Children doing more outdoor housework (OR 0.83; 95% CI 0.71 - 0.98) and living in greater poverty (OR 0.93; 95% CI 0.88 - 0.99) had lower odds of having asthma. Severe asthma was predicted by child depression (OR 1.14; 95% CI 1.03 - 1.26) and greater household poverty (OR 1.14; 95% CI 1.01 - 1.28). Most socioeconomic factors operated in ‘risk pathways’, wherein structural factors (e.g. urban living) were associated with individual factors (e.g. fewer outdoor tasks), which predicted greater odds of having asthma or severe exacerbations.

Conclusions. This study suggests the need to consider the context of childhood asthma in SA for improved prevention and treatment. A multidisciplinary approach may be more effective than a biomedical model, given the plausible effects of psychosocial stress and poverty on asthma outcomes.

Authors' affiliations

Alexa Rachel Yakubovich, PhD student, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, UK

Lucie Dale Cluver, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, UK

Robert Gie, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa

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Asthma; Child health; Socioeconomic; Social epidemiology

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(4):404-412. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i4.10168

Article History

Date submitted: 2015-10-06
Date published: 2016-03-09

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