Dramatic Fall in Rates of Childhood Asthma

Stunning reductions have just been reported in the incidence of asthma in children. In the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report,'A Picture of Australia's Children 2012', the new rate of asthma in children aged 0-15 has been listed as 9.9%. This figure was measured in 2007/8.

This is a phenomenal improvement. Anyone who has followed asthma statistics over the past thirty years as I have, would recall this asthma rate was never below 20% during the 1980's and 1990's. And in Queensland it was 25% consistently. So 9.9% is truly amazing. What we have here, is a halving of the incidence of asthma in children in ten years.

No one is coming forward however, to give us the reason for this decrease. I mean, these things don't just happen!

Has the method of assessment been changed? Are doctors using different treatments for children or has something changed in our environment? Surely someone knows the answer to this.

Could it be that many mothers today believe asthma is a vitamin A deficiency and are making sure their susceptible children are given extra vitamins A and E? This latest report seems to indicate the drop in asthma numbers began in 2001 when the rate was recorded at 13.5%. It could be just co-incidence but I like to think my first book which went to No. 5 on the Bestsellers List in 1998, might have had some small influence on these numbers.

Or perhaps there could be another reason. In 1987 a law was passed in Australia, requiring vitamin A to be added to margarine. (It probably would have taken until 1990 before all margarine was supplemented)

Prior to 1970 few people ate margarine, as it was white in colour and had an unappetising appearance. In Australia colouring was not allowed in margarine until 1960. Butter, which naturally contains vitamin A, was the preferred spread. But after 1970, most consumers switched to margarine because of the scare campaign against butter, dairy products and most types of fats. Therefore since margarine at that time did not contain vitamin A, and butter was considered dangerous to health, the population missed a vital source of fat soluble vitamin A for twenty years.

Margarine, with added vitamin A, is now eaten by children all over Australia. Only something as widely used as this could bring about such a dramatic change . To prevent deficiency diseases, low doses of vitamins are sufficient. For instance, we seem to avoid scurvy with just the tiniest amount of vitamin C, yet once the illness has manifested, much larger doses are needed to reverse it.

Perhaps it's the same with asthma. Many small children might never develop asthma today because vitamin A is added to margarine. This extra amount in the diet of everyone could also result in babies receiving increased vitamin A from their mothers' breastmilk. Therefore small children today might be protected from asthma right from their earliest times through to primary school and beyond.

Many people seem to believe they can get sufficient vitamin A from eating fruit and vegetables. This is not correct. Only one sixth of betacarotene is converted into vitamin A and some experts have claimed recently that up to 45% of people are not capable of converting any at all. So for children in particular, receiving this small amount of straight vitamin A in margarine is a huge boost to their health.

This is all just a theory, but till someone suggests something better, I'm holding on to this one.

Whatever the reason for this dramatic improvement, I do wish someone would give us an official explanation.

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