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Low Activity Levels Found Among Children with Asthma Due to Parental Health Beliefs, Disease Severity

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Media Contact: Jessica Collins
410-516-4570
jcolli31@jhmi.edu
April 5, 2004

Low Activity Levels Found Among Children with Asthma Due to Parental Health Beliefs, Disease Severity

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center report that 20 percent of children with asthma do not get enough exercise, even though physical activities such as running and swimming have been shown to decrease the severity of asthma symptoms.

The report, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, shows that this physical inactivity is partly due to parents' misconceptions that exercise poses a risk to asthmatic children.

The findings are based on the results of a telephone survey of the parents of 137 children with asthma and 106 healthy children.

According to the study, almost one-fifth of all parents agreed with a statement that exercise is dangerous for children with asthma. One-quarter of parents of asthmatic children also said they were afraid that their child would get sick if he or she exercises, and that their child gets upset with strenuous activity. Children whose parents held such beliefs were more likely to be inactive.

The study's findings also indicate that children with moderate or severe asthma - including those who take asthma-controlling medications - were less likely to engage in high levels of physical activity.

"These results are troubling," says the study's lead author, David Lang, M.D., M.P.H., who led the research while a pediatric fellow at the Children's Center. "Despite medical advances and a better understanding of asthma, we found that beliefs still exist that exercise is dangerous for asthmatic children and that children with asthma should not exercise. In reality, physical activity has important benefits for all children, including those with asthma."

"Since we found that parental beliefs about asthma and exercise directly affected their children's activity level, we believe it's critical that pediatricians address exercise and its benefits with children and their caregivers to achieve the goal of normal physical activity in children with asthma," adds Janet Serwint, M.D., the study's senior author and a pediatrician at the Children's Center.

The study was supported by a grant from the Thomas Wilson Sanitarium for the Children of Baltimore City.

Lang is currently with the National Institutes of Health. Additional study co-authors were Arlene M. Butz, Sc.D., R.N., and Anne K. Duggan, Sc.D., of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

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