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Childhood Eczema Cases Treble Since 1970s

22 December 2003

One in three children have suffered from eczema by the time they are three and a half years old, a new study has found.

One in three children have suffered from eczema by the time they are three and a half years old, a new study has found. This represents a huge increase since the 1970s, when research indicated that approximately one in ten children suffered from eczema.

Evidence has been growing for some years that eczema is on the increase, but this is the most comprehensive study yet undertaken to establish the number of young children who suffer.

The research is based on data from the University of Bristol’s ALSPAC study, also known as Children of the 90s, which has followed the development of over 14,000 children since their births in 1991-2.

20% of children first showed symptoms of eczema by 6 months. The likelihood of developing symptoms for the first time became steadily less likely after this age. Boys and girls are equally likely to be affected.

The study shows that eczema is very widespread and is becoming more prevalent. Research carried out in earlier decades, although not precisely comparable with the current study, indicates that levels of childhood eczema were approximately 10% in the 1970s and 20% in the 1980s. The current study found that 30% of children born in the early 1990s showed symptoms of eczema at some time between birth and 42 months.

The researchers are now analysing the lifestyle information provided by Children of 90s families to identify the factors that put children at risk of eczema:

“There are a number of theories,” says lead researcher Nellie Wadonda-Kabondo. “It is possible that high levels of hygiene these days mean that some children’s immune systems are not being challenged enough to develop properly. Changes in diet over recent decades and increasing levels of certain pollutants are other possibilities.

“The enormous quantity of data that ALSPAC has collected is an invaluable resource which, we hope, will help us to identify the factors that trigger eczema.”


ALSPAC The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s) is a unique ongoing research project based in the University of Bristol. It enrolled 14,000 mothers during pregnancy in 1991-2 and has followed most of the children and parents in minute detail ever since.


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