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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013


Asthma is a disease of the lungs that can cause wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and chest pain. It is one of the most common chronic diseases among children and is costly in both health and monetary terms. Asthma varies greatly in severity. Some children who have been diagnosed with asthma may not experience any serious respiratory effects. Other children may have mild symptoms or may respond well to management of their asthma, typically through the use of medication. Some children with asthma may, however, suffer serious attacks that greatly limit their activities, result in visits to emergency rooms or hospitals, or, in rare cases, cause death. Environmental factors such as air pollution and secondhand tobacco smoke, along with infections, exercise, and allergens, can trigger asthma attacks in children who have the disease.140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145

Indicator Health8: Percentage of children ages 0–17 with asthma, 1997–2011
Percentage of children ages 0–17 with asthma, 1997–2011

NOTE: Children are identified as ever diagnosed with asthma by asking parents, "Has a doctor or other health professional EVER told you that your child has asthma?" If the parent answers YES to this question, they are then asked (1) "Does your child still have asthma?" and (2) "During the past 12 months, has your child had an episode of asthma or an asthma attack?" The question "Does your child still have asthma?" was introduced in 2001 and identifies children who currently have asthma.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey.

  • In 2011, about 14 percent of children had been diagnosed with asthma at some time in their lives.
  • About 10 percent of children were reported to currently have asthma in 2011. These include children with active asthma symptoms and those whose asthma is well controlled.
  • In 2011, approximately 5 percent of all children had one or more asthma attacks in the previous 12 months. These children have ongoing asthma symptoms that could put them at risk for poorer health outcomes, including hospitalizations and death. About 3 out of 5 children who currently have asthma have ongoing asthma symptoms.
  • In 2011, about 16 percent of Black, non-Hispanic children were reported to currently have asthma, compared with 8 percent of White, non-Hispanic and 10 percent of Hispanic children. Disparities exist within the Hispanic population such that 25 percent of Puerto Rican children were reported to currently have asthma, compared with 8 percent of children of Mexican origin.
  • From 2001 to 2011, there was an increasing trend in the percentage of children reported to currently have asthma. Between 1980 and 1995, childhood asthma more than doubled (from about 4 percent in 1980 to approximately 8 percent in 1995). Methods for measurement of childhood asthma changed in 1997, so earlier data cannot be compared to data from 1997–2011.

table icon HEALTH8.A HTML Table, HEALTH8.B HTML Table

140 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Air quality criteria for ozone and related photochemical oxidants (EPA/600/ R-05/004aF). Research Triangle Park, NC: Author.

141 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009). Integrated science assessment for particulate matter (Final Report) (EPA/600/R-08/139F). Washington, DC: U.S. EPA, National Center for Environmental Assessment. Retrieved from

142 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.

143 National Academy of Sciences. (2000). Clearing the air: Asthma and indoor air exposures. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from

144 Gern, J.E. (2004). Viral respiratory infection and the link to asthma. Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, 23(1 Suppl.), S78–86.

145 Lemanske, R.F., Jr., and Busse, W.W. (2003). Asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 111 (2 Suppl.), S502– 519.