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Research highlights deadly lung problems in kids

Media Release
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand (Inc.)

New research highlights deadly lung problems in Kiwi kids

Today the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation unveils a chilling new research document ‘Trying to Catch Our Breath – the Burden of Preventable Breathing Diseases in Children and Young People.’

The document alerts the Government to the appalling prevalence of respiratory disease in children just one week before New Zealand’s first Balloon Day for kids with asthma on Saturday 29 April. The research was launched in appropriate fashion by hot air balloon at Oriental Parade beach in Wellington. Balloon Day is proudly supported by Contact Energy in association with Mitre 10.

The document outlines factors that have contributed to our alarming respiratory health statistics and makes recommendations for the government, Ministry of Health, District Health Boards and other key players.

For people with asthma, the news doesn’t improve. Hospital admission rates for child asthma remain high and rates for Maori and Pacific Islanders have risen. New Zealand continues to have one of the highest asthma prevalence rates in the world – a whopping one in four of our children is affected.

Jane Patterson, Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Executive Director, is pleased to now be able to clearly demonstrate the true impact of respiratory disease on Kiwi kids. Ms Patterson and Foundation Medical Director Professor Robin Taylor visited the Minister of Health Hon Pete Hodgson last night [Tuesday 18 April] to hand over the document and discuss its ramifications.

“The Minister of Health needs to act decisively and include respiratory illness as a priority population health objective in the New Zealand Health Strategy. This would direct the attention of the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards towards improved strategic planning and resource allocation for people with respiratory health problems. At the moment, the health of one in four Kiwi kids is overlooked” says Ms Patterson.

The document is authored by expert respiratory paediatricians Professor Innes Asher and Dr Cass Byrnes of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Auckland and Starship Children’s Health. It explores the social context of respiratory disease and how factors such as housing, income, access to health care, nutrition and immunisation have contributed to our current poor respiratory health status.

Professor Asher says that income has long been widely recognised as the most important health determinant.

“We know that the number of children living in poverty increased from 16% in 1988 to a staggering 29% in 2000. The Working for Families package will alleviate the situations for only one third of children in poverty.

New Zealanders need to understand that many families still cannot afford to buy nutritious food or to live in warm uncrowded homes. They remain beneath the poverty line and this is having a devastating effect on the respiratory health of many of our nation’s children in both the short and the long term.”

The document reveals that among the top 10 causes of potentially avoidable hospital admissions in young New Zealanders, the majority are respiratory conditions. And those conditions don’t include just asthma, which can strike anyone at any time, but other unexpected diseases more commonly associated with third world populations.

For example, bronchiectasis (lung scarring with dilated airways) is on the rise in New Zealand. In some age groups, more adults die of bronchiectasis than asthma. However, in most other developed countries, the incidence of bronchiectasis has fallen in the 20th century due to improved living conditions, improved immunisation vaccination programmes and antibiotic treatment of chest infections.

In addition, bronchiolitis (a serious infection causing wheezing in babies) is increasing and is the third highest cause of preventable hospital admission in Maori and Pacific Island communities.

Pneumonia is more common in New Zealand children than in other developed countries. Hospital admission rates here are about five times higher than in the United States. Pneumonia can cause permanent lung damage and is associated with poor lung function in adult life.

The potentially fatal pertussis (whooping cough) has excessive disease burden in New Zealand due to low and untimely immunisation coverage.

To read the full document or the summary document, please visit the website of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation



For BETA video or DVD footage/photos of Jane Patterson and the research document beginning the journey to the Ministry of Health in a hot air balloon on Oriental Parade in Wellington, please call Debi Johnston on 04-499-4592 or email

• The title of the document which refers to “preventing breathing diseases” is in line with the Ministry of Health’s categorisation of hospital admissions as potentially avoidable.

• New Zealand has one of the highest rates of respiratory disease in the developed world.

• Immunisation rates for pertussis lag behind most other Pacific nations.

• One in four New Zealand children has asthma.

• Asthma is the most common cause of child hospital admissions.

• It is estimated that asthma costs New Zealand $825 million per year in direct and indirect costs.

• Approximately 160,000 children under 15 years of age are exposed to cigarette smoke.

• Bronchiectasis affects more than one in 700 Pacific children living in New Zealand.

Balloon Day information

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand (Inc.) is pleased to announce New Zealand’s first ever Balloon Day on Saturday 29 April to raise awareness about the country’s extremely high incidence of child respiratory illness and to raise funds for child asthma research. Watch for the Foundation’s hard hitting new advertising campaign and buy a balloon for every child you know with asthma at Mitre 10 stores throughout the country. For more information, please see


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