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Literature on morbidity and mortality from childhood asthma is reviewed, and data presented from a geographically defined population showing a cumulative prevalence of 25% for chronic or recurrent reversible airways obstruction in 263 children aged between five and 16 years. In 47% of these children, asthma was diagnosed when they were under the age of five years. Risks of iatrogenic damage from overdiagnosis and overtreatment are discussed. The principal objective of management of childhood asthma in general practice should not be the prevention of deaths, which now occur at rates of between two and 25 per million people, but to help children with minor asthma to conserve respiratory function and become normal adults.