Background The frequency of asthma varies between countries, and may also vary between ethnic groups in more geographically confined areas. We sought evidence of such ethnic variations in the UK for asthma frequency, morbidity, and health-services use, and to understand possible reasons for any differences.
Methods We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PSYCHInfo, PREMEDLINE, HEALTHSTAR, Cambridge Register of Conference Abstracts, the Dissertation and Thesis Database, and the National Registry of Research. Additionally, we searched the bibliographies of reports identified and websites of health authorities, and contacted experts in this discipline. Our main outcomes were comparisons of asthma rate, morbidity, and health-services use. We did meta-analyses using random-effects models.
Findings 13 studies contained relevant data. All prevalence studies were of children and showed that south Asian children had a lower frequency of symptoms suggestive of asthma compared with black and white children (pooled rate of history of wheeze in the previous 12 months: south Asians 9.6% [95% CI 8.0-11.2%], black people 16.2% [12.8-19.6%], white people 14.6% [11.5-17.8%]). The pooled frequency of clinician-diagnosed asthma in children followed a similar pattern (south Asians 7.6% [3.7-11.4%], black people 15.0% [3.5-26.5%], white people 10.6% [4.6-16.7%]. However, relative to white people, the risk of admission for asthma in children and adults was higher for south Asians (odds ratio 2.9 [2.4-3.4]) and black people (2.1 [1.8-2.5]).
Interpretation The differences in admission are not explained by differences in asthma frequency between groups; they could relate to ethnic variations in asthma severity, differences in health-seeking behaviour, or difficulties in accessing high-quality primary care services.