Objectives. Our objective was to use national data to produce a comprehensive description of trends in childhood asthma prevalence, health care utilization, and mortality to assess changes in the disease burden among US children.

Methods. Five data sources from the National Center for Health Statistics were used to describe trends in asthma for children aged 0 to 17 years from 1980 to the most recent year for which data were available. These included the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the National Hospital Discharge Survey, and the Mortality Component of the National Vital Statistics System.

Results. Asthma prevalence increased by an average of 4.3% per year from 1980 to 1996, from 3.6% to 6.2%. The peak prevalence was 7.5% in 1995. In 1997, asthma attack prevalence was 5.4%, but changes in the NHIS design in 1997 preclude comparison to previous estimates. Asthma attack prevalence remained level from 1997 to 2000. After a decrease between 1980 and 1989, the asthma office visit rate increased by an average of 3.8% per year from 1989 to 1999. The asthma hospitalization rate grew by 1.4% per year from 1980 to 1999. Although childhood asthma deaths are rare, the asthma death rate increased by 3.4% per year from 1980 to 1998. Children aged 0 to 4 years had the largest increase in prevalence and had greater health care use, but adolescents had the highest mortality. The asthma burden was borne disproportionately by black children throughout the period. Racial disparities were largest for asthma hospitalizations and mortality: compared with white children, in 1998–1999, black children were >3 times as likely to be hospitalized and in 1997–1998 >4 times as likely to die from asthma.

Conclusions. Recent data suggest that the burden from childhood asthma may have recently plateaued after several years of increasing, although additional years of data collection are necessary to confirm a change in trend. Racial and ethnic disparities remain large for asthma health care utilization and mortality.

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