Parenting May Affect Asthma

Good parenting may help protect a child from asthma, says a new study.

That's the latest conjecture as to the cause of the world's most prevalent childhood disease. Other factors such as the child's environment, hygiene, diet, infections, antibiotics, and the weather have been suspects at one time or another.

In an effort to identify factors during infancy that may lead to asthma, researchers from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver studied a group of 150 children for eight years.

All of the mothers of the children were asthmatics, making the children genetically predisposed to the disease. Of the children, 40, or 28 percent, developed asthma between the ages of 6 and 8.

When the researchers looked at the factors that might have led to asthma, they found several correlations. Besides genetics and immune system development, two known factors that contribute to asthma, the researchers noted the possibility of a new risk factor — the quality of parenting.

Emotions, Psychiatric Factors Evaluated

Parenting skills, as assessed at the child's third week, were based on such factors as the parents' psychiatric history, emotional availability for the child, behavior modification strategies and knowledge of and commitment to infant care.

A follow-up evaluation at age 6 showed significant agreement with the three-week assessment.

Lead study author Mary Klinnert, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, explains that parenting difficulties may lead to the development of asthma, as a poorly adjusted parent may expose the infant to greater emotional stress or may not recognize medical problems of the child.

"What we think we know from child development literature is that how the mother is doing emotionally can be related to their ability to provide responsive parenting," says Klinnert.

Genetics and a Balance

Still, while the importance of responsive and sensitive parenting during the critical time of the baby's first few weeks or months can not be overemphasized, experts caution parents from misunderstanding the findings.

"This study requires a balancing act," says Klinnert. "We don't want people to feel blame but it is important that we appreciate the role of parenting."

"This reinforces the notion that you want to do the best parenting job you can do, " says Dr. Robert Mellins, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. "But it's also true that genetics are important, and parents can do nothing about that."

"The importance of each of these [immune system, genetics, parenting] depends on the situation," says Mellins. "We know these three things are involved but the relative importance of each could vary from individual to individual and likely does."