The United States has seen an increase in rates of autism, ADHD, and asthma-related cases in recent years. A study carried out by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) has found a disturbing relationship between poverty and these growing health concerns.
“A detailed and in-depth analysis was conducted between 2003 and 2012,” said Christian Pulcini, MD, from the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Colleagues of Pulcini further added that, “Within this study’s time period, there was a rise in parent-reported lifetime prevalence of all three target disorders.”
Studies found a disturbing rise between 2003 and 2011-2012—an increase of 18% was seen in asthma-related cases. For ADHD, there was a spike of 44%, and autism spectrum disorder saw the highest rise of about 400%.
However, “The increases in lifetime prevalence of these disorders were differently influenced by poverty status,” observed investigators.
For instance, increases in asthma-related cases were seen to be the highest among poor or underprivileged children. Further, those living under the federal poverty level saw an increase of 25.8%. In contrast, only a 13.4% increase was seen in asthma-related cases in families with incomes at least 400% above FPL.
Insurance also played a vital role, as it was observed that uninsured children were at a greater risk of contracting asthma; occurrences increased by 57.9%, while insured children saw a rise of only 9.4%.
Similar trends were observed regarding ADHD. Underprivileged children who were living under the FPL saw a 43.2% increase in comparison to a 33.4% increase among their wealthy peers. Further, the uninsured saw an increase of 42.7% in ADHD prevalence versus 37.5% among the privately insured; the survey among these different sectors of society was conducted simultaneously in order to get a clearer picture.
Investigators further say that “In contrast, increases in the lifetime prevalence of ASD were more prominent among the groups with more financial resources…and those with private insurance.”
Investigators add, “The rise in the extent of parent-reported comorbid conditions for these target conditions was also differentially influenced by poverty status.” For instance, parental reports of underprivileged children with asthma state that they have more than one comorbid condition, the rate of which further rose by one quarter over the study period. This was also seen in cases of underprivileged families, and as many as two or more comorbid conditions were reported over the same period of time, as revealed by an analysis of the survey.
Similarly, an analysis by NCHS also found that many children who were diagnosed with ASD had at least two comorbid conditions.
Interestingly, investigators note that “These findings underscore the importance of increased clinician awareness of higher risk for comorbid conditions when caring for children with asthma and ADHD who are living in impoverished households.”
Furthermore, they say “Our data reinforces the importance of clinicians remaining steadfast in their evaluation of all children with ASD, because comorbidities are exceedingly common in all income groups.”