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1.  Preterm Birth and Childhood Wheezing Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001596.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Jasper Been and colleagues investigate the association between preterm birth and the development of wheezing disorders in childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Accumulating evidence implicates early life factors in the aetiology of non-communicable diseases, including asthma/wheezing disorders. We undertook a systematic review investigating risks of asthma/wheezing disorders in children born preterm, including the increasing numbers who, as a result of advances in neonatal care, now survive very preterm birth.
Methods and Findings
Two reviewers independently searched seven online databases for contemporaneous (1 January 1995–23 September 2013) epidemiological studies investigating the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders. Additional studies were identified through reference and citation searches, and contacting international experts. Quality appraisal was undertaken using the Effective Public Health Practice Project instrument. We pooled unadjusted and adjusted effect estimates using random-effects meta-analysis, investigated “dose–response” associations, and undertook subgroup, sensitivity, and meta-regression analyses to assess the robustness of associations.
We identified 42 eligible studies from six continents. Twelve were excluded for population overlap, leaving 30 unique studies involving 1,543,639 children. Preterm birth was associated with an increased risk of wheezing disorders in unadjusted (13.7% versus 8.3%; odds ratio [OR] 1.71, 95% CI 1.57–1.87; 26 studies including 1,500,916 children) and adjusted analyses (OR 1.46, 95% CI 1.29–1.65; 17 studies including 874,710 children). The risk was particularly high among children born very preterm (<32 wk gestation; unadjusted: OR 3.00, 95% CI 2.61–3.44; adjusted: OR 2.81, 95% CI 2.55–3.12). Findings were most pronounced for studies with low risk of bias and were consistent across sensitivity analyses. The estimated population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was ≥3.1%.
Key limitations related to the paucity of data from low- and middle-income countries, and risk of residual confounding.
Conclusions
There is compelling evidence that preterm birth—particularly very preterm birth—increases the risk of asthma. Given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, research now needs to focus on understanding underlying mechanisms, and then to translate these insights into the development of preventive interventions.
Review Registration
PROSPERO CRD42013004965
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks, but worldwide, more than 11% of babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation (the period during which a baby develops in its mother's womb). Preterm birth is a major cause of infant death—more than 1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications—and the number of preterm births is increasing globally. Multiple pregnancies, infections, and chronic (long-term) maternal conditions such as diabetes can all cause premature birth, but the cause of many preterm births is unknown. The most obvious immediate complication that is associated with preterm birth is respiratory distress syndrome. This breathing problem, which is more common in early preterm babies than in near-term babies, occurs because the lungs of premature babies are structurally immature and lack pulmonary surfactant, a unique mixture of lipids and proteins that coats the inner lining of the lungs and helps to prevent the collapse of the small air sacs in the lungs that absorb oxygen from the air. Consequently, preterm babies often need help with their breathing and oxygen supplementation.
Why Was This Study Done?
Improvements in the management of prematurity mean that more preterm babies survive today than in the past. However, accumulating evidence suggests that early life events are involved in the subsequent development of non-communicable diseases (non-infectious chronic diseases). Given the increasing burden of preterm birth, a better understanding of the long-term effects of preterm birth is essential. Here, the researchers investigate the risks of asthma and wheezing disorders in children who are born preterm by undertaking a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies). Asthma is a chronic condition that is caused by inflammation of the airways. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur and to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can sometimes be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing), coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 30 studies undertaken between 1995 and the present (a time span chosen to allow for recent changes in the management of prematurity) that investigated the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders in more than 1.5 million children. Across the studies, 13.7% of preterm babies developed asthma/wheezing disorders during childhood, compared to only 8.3% of babies born at term. Thus, the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.71 times higher than the risk of term babies developing these conditions (an unadjusted odds ratio [OR] of 1.71). In analyses that allowed for confounding factors—other factors that affect the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders such as maternal smoking—the risk of preterm babies developing asthma or a wheezing disorder during childhood was 1.46 times higher than that of babies born at term (an adjusted OR of 1.46). Notably, compared to children born at term, children born very early (before 32 weeks of gestation) had about three times the risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders in unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Finally, the population-attributable risk of preterm birth for childhood wheezing disorders was more than 3.1%. That is, if no preterm births had occurred, there would have been more than a 3.1% reduction in childhood wheezing disorders.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings strongly suggest that preterm birth increases the risk of asthma and wheezing disorders during childhood and that the risk of asthma/wheezing disorders increases as the degree of prematurity increases. The accuracy of these findings may be affected, however, by residual confounding. That is, preterm children may share other, unknown characteristics that increase their risk of developing asthma/wheezing disorders. Moreover, the generalizability of these findings is limited by the lack of data from low- and middle-income countries. However, given the projected global increases in children surviving preterm births, these findings highlight the need to undertake research into the mechanisms underlying the association between preterm birth and asthma/wheezing disorders and the need to develop appropriate preventative and therapeutic measures.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596.
The March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, provides information on preterm birth (in English and Spanish)
Nemours, another nonprofit organization for child health, also provides information (in English and Spanish) on premature babies and on asthma (including personal stories)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about premature labor and birth and a real story about having a preterm baby; it provides information about asthma in children (including real stories)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on preterm birth, asthma, asthma in children, and wheezing (in English and Spanish); MedlinePlus provides links to further information on premature birth, asthma, and asthma in children (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001596
PMCID: PMC3904844  PMID: 24492409
2.  Mortality after Parental Death in Childhood: A Nationwide Cohort Study from Three Nordic Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001679.
Jiong Li and colleagues examine mortality rates in children who lost a parent before 18 years old compared with those who did not using population-based data from Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Bereavement by spousal death and child death in adulthood has been shown to lead to an increased risk of mortality. Maternal death in infancy or parental death in early childhood may have an impact on mortality but evidence has been limited to short-term or selected causes of death. Little is known about long-term or cause-specific mortality after parental death in childhood.
Methods and Findings
This cohort study included all persons born in Denmark from 1968 to 2008 (n = 2,789,807) and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006 (n = 3,380,301), and a random sample of 89.3% of all born in Finland from 1987 to 2007 (n = 1,131,905). A total of 189,094 persons were included in the exposed cohort when they lost a parent before 18 years old. Log-linear Poisson regression was used to estimate mortality rate ratio (MRR). Parental death was associated with a 50% increased all-cause mortality (MRR = 1.50, 95% CI 1.43–1.58). The risks were increased for most specific cause groups and the highest MRRs were observed when the cause of child death and the cause of parental death were in the same category. Parental unnatural death was associated with a higher mortality risk (MRR = 1.84, 95% CI 1.71–2.00) than parental natural death (MRR = 1.33, 95% CI 1.24–1.41). The magnitude of the associations varied according to type of death and age at bereavement over different follow-up periods. The main limitation of the study is the lack of data on post-bereavement information on the quality of the parent-child relationship, lifestyles, and common physical environment.
Conclusions
Parental death in childhood or adolescence is associated with increased all-cause mortality into early adulthood. Since an increased mortality reflects both genetic susceptibility and long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being, our findings have implications in clinical responses and public health strategies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
When someone close dies, it is normal to grieve, to mourn the loss of that individual. Initially, people who have lost a loved one often feel numb and disorientated and find it hard to grasp what has happened. Later, people may feel angry or guilty, and may be overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and despair. They may become depressed or anxious and may even feel suicidal. People who are grieving can also have physical reactions to their loss such as sleep problems, changes in appetite, and illness. How long bereavement—the period of grief and mourning after a death—lasts and how badly it affects an individual depends on the relationship between the individual and the deceased person, on whether the death was expected, and on how much support the mourner receives from relatives, friends, and professionals.
Why Was This Study Done?
The loss of a life-partner or of a child is associated with an increased risk of death (mortality), and there is also some evidence that the death of a parent during childhood leads to an increased mortality risk in the short term. However, little is known about the long-term impact on mortality of early parental loss or whether the impact varies with the type of death—a natural death from illness or an unnatural death from external causes such as an accident—or with the specific cause of death. A better understanding of the impact of early bereavement on mortality is needed to ensure that bereaved children receive appropriate health and social support after a parent's death. Here, the researchers undertake a nationwide cohort study in three Nordic countries to investigate long-term and cause-specific mortality after parental death in childhood. A cohort study compares the occurrence of an event (here, death) in a group of individuals who have been exposed to a particular variable (here, early parental loss) with the occurrence of the same event in an unexposed cohort.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on everyone born in Denmark from 1968 to 2008 and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006, and on most people born in Finland from 1987 to 2007 (more than 7 million individuals in total) from national registries. They identified 189,094 individuals who had lost a parent between the age of 6 months and 18 years. They then estimated the mortality rate ratio (MRR) associated with parental death during childhood or adolescence by comparing the number of deaths in this exposed cohort (after excluding children who died on the same day as a parent or shortly after from the same cause) and in the unexposed cohort. Compared with the unexposed cohort, the exposed cohort had 50% higher all-cause mortality (MRR = 1.50). The risk of mortality in the exposed cohort was increased for most major categories of cause of death but the highest MRRs were seen when the cause of death in children, adolescents, and young adults during follow-up and the cause of parental death were in the same category. Notably, parental unnatural death was associated with a higher mortality risk (MRR = 1.84) than parental natural death (MRR = 1.33). Finally, the exposed cohort had increased all-cause MRRs well into early adulthood irrespective of child age at parental death, and the magnitude of MRRs differed by child age at parental death and by type of death.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in three high-income Nordic countries parental death during childhood and adolescence is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality into early adulthood, irrespective of sex and age at bereavement and after accounting for baseline characteristics such as socioeconomic status. Part of this association may be due to “confounding” factors—the people who lost a parent during childhood may have shared other unknown characteristics that increased their risk of death. Because the study was undertaken in high-income countries, these findings are unlikely to be the result of a lack of material or health care needs. Rather, the increased mortality among the exposed group reflects both genetic susceptibility and the long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being. Given that increased mortality probably only represents the tip of the iceberg of the adverse effects of early bereavement, these findings highlight the need to provide long-term health and social support to bereaved children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001679.
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about bereavement, including personal stories; it also provides information about children and bereavement and about young people and bereavement, including links to not-for-profit organizations that support children through bereavement
The US National Cancer Institute has detailed information about dealing with bereavement for the public and for health professionals that includes a section on children and grief (in English and Spanish)
The US National Alliance for Grieving Children promotes awareness of the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who wants to support them
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about bereavement (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001679
PMCID: PMC4106717  PMID: 25051501
3.  Psychological Stress and Hospitalization for Childhood Asthma-a Nationwide Cohort Study in Two Nordic Countries 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78816.
Objective
Exposures to psychological stress in early life may contribute to the development or exacerbation of asthma. We undertook a cohort study based on data from several population-based registers in Denmark and Sweden to examine whether bereavement in childhood led to increased asthma hospitalization.
Methods
All singleton children born in Denmark during 1977-2008 and in Sweden during 1973-2006 were included in the study (N=5,202,576). The children were followed from birth to the date of first asthma hospitalization, emigration, death, their 18th birthday, or the end of study (31 December 2007 in Sweden and 31 December 2008 in Denmark), whichever came first. All the children were assigned to the non-bereaved group until they lost a close relative (mother, father or a sibling), from when they were included in the bereaved group. We evaluated the hazard ratio (HR) of first hospitalization for asthma in bereaved children using Cox proportional hazards regression models, compared to those who were in the non-bereaved group. We also did a sub-analysis on the association between bereavement and first asthma medication.
Results
A total of 147,829 children were hospitalized for asthma. The overall adjusted HR of asthma hospitalization in bereaved children was 1.10 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.04-1.16), compared to non-bereaved children. The risk of asthma hospitalization was increased in those who lost a close relative at age of 14-17 years (HR=1.54, 95% CI: 1.23-1.92), but not in younger age groups. The association between bereavement and asthma hospitalization did not change over time since bereavement. In the sub-analysis in singleton live births during 1996-2008 recorded in the DMBR, bereavement was associated with a lower use of asthma medication (HR=0.87, 95% CI: 0.80-0.95).
Conclusions
Our data suggests that psychological stress following bereavement in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of asthma hospitalization or lowers the threshold for asthma hospitalization.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078816
PMCID: PMC3808299  PMID: 24205324
4.  Prenatal Exposure to Bereavement and Type-2 Diabetes: A Danish Longitudinal Population Based Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43508.
Background
The etiology of type-2 diabetes is only partly known, and a possible role of prenatal stress in programming offspring for insulin resistance has been suggested by animal models. Previously, we found an association between prenatal stress and type-1 diabetes. Here we examine the association between prenatal exposure to maternal bereavement during preconception and pregnancy and development of type-2 diabetes in the off-spring.
Methods
We utilized data from the Danish Civil Registration System to identify singleton births in Denmark born January 1st 1979 through December 31st 2008 (N = 1,878,246), and linked them to their parents, grandparents, and siblings. We categorized children as exposed to bereavement during prenatal life if their mothers lost an elder child, husband or parent during the period from one year before conception to the child’s birth. We identified 45,302 children exposed to maternal bereavement; the remaining children were included in the unexposed cohort. The outcome of interest was diagnosis of type-2 diabetes. We estimated incidence rate ratios (IRRs) from birth using log-linear poisson regression models and used person-years as the offset variable. All models were adjusted for maternal residence, income, education, marital status, sibling order, calendar year, sex, and parents’ history of diabetes at the time of pregnancy.
Results
We found children exposed to bereavement during their prenatal life were more likely to have a type-2 diabetes diagnosis later in life (aIRR: 1.31, 1.01–1.69). These findings were most pronounced when bereavement was caused by death of an elder child (aIRR: 1.51, 0.94–2.44). Results also indicated the second trimester of pregnancy to be the most sensitive period of bereavement exposure (aIRR:2.08, 1.15–3.76).
Conclusions
Our data suggests that fetal exposure to maternal bereavement during preconception and the prenatal period may increase the risk for developing type-2 diabetes in childhood and young adulthood.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043508
PMCID: PMC3429491  PMID: 22952698
5.  Association of Adenotonsillectomy with Asthma Outcomes in Children: A Longitudinal Database Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(11):e1001753.
Rakesh Bhattacharjee and colleagues use data from a US private health insurance database to compare asthma severity measures in children one year before and one year after they underwent adenotonsillectomy with asthma measures in those who did not undergo adenotonsillectomy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), both disorders of airway inflammation, were associated in recent observational studies. Although childhood OSA is effectively treated by adenotonsillectomy (AT), it remains unclear whether AT also improves childhood asthma. We hypothesized that AT, the first line of therapy for childhood OSA, would be associated with improved asthma outcomes and would reduce the usage of asthma therapies in children.
Methods and Findings
Using the 2003–2010 MarketScan database, we identified 13,506 children with asthma in the United States who underwent AT. Asthma outcomes during 1 y preceding AT were compared to those during 1 y following AT. In addition, 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma without AT were included to examine asthma outcomes among children without known adenotonsillar tissue morbidity. Primary outcomes included the occurrence of a diagnostic code for acute asthma exacerbation (AAE) or acute status asthmaticus (ASA). Secondary outcomes included temporal changes in asthma medication prescriptions, the frequency of asthma-related emergency room visits (ARERs), and asthma-related hospitalizations (ARHs). Comparing the year following AT to the year prior, AT was associated with significant reductions in AAE (30.2%; 95% CI: 25.6%–34.3%; p<0.0001), ASA (37.9%; 95% CI: 29.2%–45.6%; p<0.0001), ARERs (25.6%; 95% CI: 16.9%–33.3%; p<0.0001), and ARHs (35.8%; 95% CI: 19.6%–48.7%; p = 0.02). Moreover, AT was associated with significant reductions in most asthma prescription refills, including bronchodilators (16.7%; 95% CI: 16.1%–17.3%; p<0.001), inhaled corticosteroids (21.5%; 95% CI: 20.7%–22.3%; p<0.001), leukotriene receptor antagonists (13.4%; 95% CI: 12.9%–14.0%; p<0.001), and systemic corticosteroids (23.7%; 95% CI: 20.9%–26.5%; p<0.001). In contrast, there were no significant reductions in these outcomes in children with asthma who did not undergo AT over an overlapping follow-up period. Limitations of the MarketScan database include lack of information on race and obesity status. Also, the MarketScan database does not include information on children with public health insurance (i.e., Medicaid) or uninsured children.
Conclusions
In a very large sample of privately insured children, AT was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. Contingent on validation through prospectively designed clinical trials, this study supports the premise that detection and treatment of adenotonsillar tissue morbidity may serve as an important strategy for improving asthma control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The global burden of asthma has been rising steadily over the past few decades. Nowadays, about 200–300 million adults and children worldwide are affected by asthma, a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the airways (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs). Although asthma can develop at any age, it is often diagnosed in childhood—asthma is one of the commonest chronic diseases in children. In the US, for example, asthma affects around 7.1 million children under the age of 18 years and is the third leading cause of hospitalization of children under the age of 15 years. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur or to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Exercise, cold air, and infections can trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recent studies have found an association between severe childhood asthma and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, airway inflammation promotes hypertrophy (excess growth) of the adenoids and the tonsils, immune system tissues in the upper airway. During sleep, the presence of hypertrophic adenotonsillar tissues predisposes the walls of the throat to collapse, which results in apnea—a brief interruption in breathing. People with OSA often snore loudly and frequently wake from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe. Childhood OSA, which affects 2%–3% of children, can be effectively treated by removal of the adenoids and tonsils (adenotonsillectomy). Given the association between childhood OSA and severe asthma and given the involvement of airway inflammation in both conditions, might adenotonsillectomy also improve childhood asthma? Here, the researchers analyze data from the MarketScan database, a large database of US patients with private health insurance, to investigate whether adenotonsillectomy is associated with improvements in asthma outcomes and with reductions in the use of asthma therapies in children.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the database to identify 13,506 children with asthma who had undergone adenotonsillectomy and to obtain information about asthma outcomes among these children for the year before and the year after the operation. Because asthma severity tends to decrease with age, the researchers also used the database to identify 27,012 age-, sex-, and geographically matched children with asthma who did not have the operation so that they could examine asthma outcomes over an equivalent two-year period in the absence of complications related to adenotonsillar hypertrophy. Comparing the year after adenotonsillectomy with the year before the operation, adenotonsillectomy was associated with a 30% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations, a 37.9% reduction in acute status asthmaticus (an asthma attack that is unresponsive to the drugs usually used to treat attacks), a 25.6% reduction in asthma-related emergency room visits, and a 35.8% reduction in asthma-related hospitalizations. By contrast, among the control children, there was only a 2% reduction in acute asthma exacerbations and only a 7% reduction in acute status asthmaticus over an equivalent two-year period. Adenotonsillectomy was also associated with significant reductions (changes unlikely to have occurred by chance) in prescription refills for most types of drugs used to treat asthma, whereas there were no significant reductions in prescription refills among children with asthma who had not undergone adenotonsillectomy. The study was limited by the lack of measures of race and obesity, which are both associated with severity of asthma.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in a large sample of privately insured children in the US, adenotonsillectomy was associated with significant improvements in several asthma outcomes. These results do not show, however, that adenotonsillectomy caused a reduction in the severity of childhood asthma. It could be that the children who underwent adenotonsillectomy (but not those who did not have the operation) shared another unknown factor that led to improvements in their asthma over time. To prove a causal link, it will be necessary to undertake a randomized controlled trial in which the outcomes of groups of children with asthma who are chosen at random to undergo or not undergo adenotonsillectomy are compared. However, with the proviso that there are some risks associated with adenotonsillectomy, these findings suggest that the detection and treatment of adenotonsillar hypertrophy may help to improve asthma control in children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001753.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on asthma, including videos, games, and links to other resources for children with asthma
The American Lung Association provides detailed information about asthma and a fact sheet on asthma in children; it also has information about obstructive sleep apnea
The National Sleep Foundation provides information on snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in children
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including some personal stories) about asthma, about asthma in children, and about obstructive sleep apnea
The “Global Asthma Report 2014” will be available in October 2014
MedlinePlus provides links to further information on asthma, on asthma in children, on sleep apnea, and on tonsils and adenoids (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001753
PMCID: PMC4219664  PMID: 25369282
6.  Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study 
Objective To examine the risk of psychosis associated with severe bereavement stress during the antenatal and postnatal period, between conception to adolescence, and with different causes of death.
Design Population based cohort study.
Setting Swedish national registers including births between 1973 and 1985 and followed-up to 2006.
Participants In a cohort of 1 045 336 Swedish births (1973-85), offspring born to mothers exposed to severe maternal bereavement stress six months before conception or during pregnancy, or exposed to loss of a close family member subsequently from birth to 13 years of age were followed until 2006. Admissions were identified by linkage to national patient registers.
Main outcome measures Crude and adjusted odds ratios for all psychosis, non-affective psychosis, and affective psychosis.
Results Maternal bereavement stress occurring preconception or during the prenatal period was not associated with a significant excess risk of psychosis in offspring (adjusted odds ratio, preconception 1.24, 95% confidence interval 0.96 to 1.62; first trimester 0.95, 0.58 to1.56; second trimester 0.79, 0.46 to 1.33; third trimester 1.14, 0.78 to 1.66). Risks increased modestly after exposure to the loss of a close family member from birth to adolescence for all psychoses (adjusted odds ratio 1.17, 1.04 to 1.32). The pattern of risk was generally similar for non-affective and affective psychosis. Thus estimates were higher after death in the nuclear compared with extended family but remained non-significant for prenatal exposure; the earlier the exposure to death in the nuclear family occurred in childhood (all psychoses: adjusted odds ratio, birth to 2.9 years 1.84, 1.41 to 2.41; 3-6.9 years 1.47, 1.16 to 1.85; 7-12.9 years 1.32, 1.10 to 1.58) and after suicide. Following suicide, risks were especially higher for affective psychosis (birth to 2.9 years 3.33, 2.00 to 5.56; 6.9 years 1.84, 1.04 to 3.25; 7-12.9 years 2.68, 1.84 to 3.92). Adjustment for key confounders attenuated but did not explain associations with risk.
Conclusions Postnatal but not prenatal bereavement stress in mothers is associated with an increased risk of psychosis in offspring. Risks are especially high for affective psychosis after suicide in the nuclear family, an effect that is not explained by family psychiatric history. Future studies are needed to understand possible sources of risk and resilience so that structures can be put in place to support vulnerable children and their families.
doi:10.1136/bmj.f7679
PMCID: PMC3898661  PMID: 24449616
7.  Effects of BMI, Fat Mass, and Lean Mass on Asthma in Childhood: A Mendelian Randomization Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001669.
In this study, Granell and colleagues used Mendelian randomization to investigate causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ years in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and found that higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Observational studies have reported associations between body mass index (BMI) and asthma, but confounding and reverse causality remain plausible explanations. We aim to investigate evidence for a causal effect of BMI on asthma using a Mendelian randomization approach.
Methods and Findings
We used Mendelian randomization to investigate causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ y in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). A weighted allele score based on 32 independent BMI-related single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) was derived from external data, and associations with BMI, fat mass, lean mass, and asthma were estimated. We derived instrumental variable (IV) estimates of causal risk ratios (RRs). 4,835 children had available data on BMI-associated SNPs, asthma, and BMI. The weighted allele score was strongly associated with BMI, fat mass, and lean mass (all p-values<0.001) and with childhood asthma (RR 2.56, 95% CI 1.38–4.76 per unit score, p = 0.003). The estimated causal RR for the effect of BMI on asthma was 1.55 (95% CI 1.16–2.07) per kg/m2, p = 0.003. This effect appeared stronger for non-atopic (1.90, 95% CI 1.19–3.03) than for atopic asthma (1.37, 95% CI 0.89–2.11) though there was little evidence of heterogeneity (p = 0.31). The estimated causal RRs for the effects of fat mass and lean mass on asthma were 1.41 (95% CI 1.11–1.79) per 0.5 kg and 2.25 (95% CI 1.23–4.11) per kg, respectively. The possibility of genetic pleiotropy could not be discounted completely; however, additional IV analyses using FTO variant rs1558902 and the other BMI-related SNPs separately provided similar causal effects with wider confidence intervals. Loss of follow-up was unlikely to bias the estimated effects.
Conclusions
Higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood. Higher BMI may have contributed to the increase in asthma risk toward the end of the 20th century.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The global burden of asthma, a chronic (long-term) condition caused by inflammation of the airways (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs), has been rising steadily over the past few decades. It is estimated that, nowadays, 200–300 million adults and children worldwide are affected by asthma. Although asthma can develop at any age, it is often diagnosed in childhood—asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. In people with asthma, the airways can react very strongly to allergens such as animal fur or to irritants such as cigarette smoke, becoming narrower so that less air can enter the lungs. Exercise, cold air, and infections can also trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma cannot be cured, but drugs can relieve its symptoms and prevent acute asthma attacks.
Why Was This Study Done?
We cannot halt the ongoing rise in global asthma rates without understanding the causes of asthma. Some experts think obesity may be one cause of asthma. Obesity, like asthma, is increasingly common, and observational studies (investigations that ask whether individuals exposed to a suspected risk factor for a condition develop that condition more often than unexposed individuals) in children have reported that body mass index (BMI, an indicator of body fat calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared) is positively associated with asthma. Observational studies cannot prove that obesity causes asthma because of “confounding.” Overweight children with asthma may share another unknown characteristic (confounder) that actually causes both obesity and asthma. Moreover, children with asthma may be less active than unaffected children, so they become overweight (reverse causality). Here, the researchers use “Mendelian randomization” to assess whether BMI has a causal effect on asthma. In Mendelian randomization, causality is inferred from associations between genetic variants that mimic the effect of a modifiable risk factor and the outcome of interest. Because gene variants are inherited randomly, they are not prone to confounding and are free from reverse causation. So, if a higher BMI leads to asthma, genetic variants associated with increased BMI should be associated with an increased risk of asthma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers investigated causal effects of BMI, fat mass, and lean mass on current asthma at age 7½ years in 4,835 children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC, a long-term health project that started in 1991). They calculated an allele score for each child based on 32 BMI-related genetic variants, and estimated associations between this score and BMI, fat mass and lean mass (both measured using a special type of X-ray scanner; in children BMI is not a good indicator of “fatness”), and asthma. They report that the allele score was strongly associated with BMI, fat mass, and lean mass, and with childhood asthma. The estimated causal relative risk (risk ratio) for the effect of BMI on asthma was 1.55 per kg/m2. That is, the relative risk of asthma increased by 55% for every extra unit of BMI. The estimated causal relative risks for the effects of fat mass and lean mass on asthma were 1.41 per 0.5 kg and 2.25 per kg, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a higher BMI increases the risk of asthma in mid-childhood and that global increases in BMI toward the end of the 20th century may have contributed to the global increase in asthma that occurred at the same time. It is possible that the observed association between BMI and asthma reported in this study is underpinned by “genetic pleiotropy” (a potential limitation of all Mendelian randomization analyses). That is, some of the genetic variants included in the BMI allele score could conceivably also increase the risk of asthma. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that public health interventions designed to reduce obesity may also help to limit the global rise in asthma.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001669.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on asthma and on all aspects of overweight and obesity (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information on asthma and on obesity (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about asthma, about asthma in children, and about obesity (including real stories)
The Global Asthma Report 2011 is available
The Global Initiative for Asthma released its updated Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention on World Asthma Day 2014
Information about the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is available
MedlinePlus provides links to further information on obesity in children, on asthma, and on asthma in children (in English and Spanish
Wikipedia has a page on Mendelian randomization (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001669
PMCID: PMC4077660  PMID: 24983943
8.  In-Utero Exposure to Bereavement and Offspring IQ: A Danish National Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88477.
Background
Intelligence is a life-long trait that has strong influences on lifestyle, adult morbidity and life expectancy. Hence, lower cognitive abilities are therefore of public health interest. Our primary aim was to examine if prenatal bereavement measured as exposure to death of a close family member is associated with the intelligence quotient (IQ) scores at 18-years of age of adult Danish males completing a military cognitive screening examination.
Methods
We extracted records for the Danish military screening test and found kinship links with biological parents, siblings, and maternal grandparents using the Danish Civil Registration System (N = 167,900). The prenatal exposure period was defined as 12 months before conception until birth of the child. We categorized children as exposed in utero to severe stress (bereavement) during prenatal life if their mothers lost an elder child, husband, parent or sibling during the prenatal period; the remaining children were included in the unexposed cohort. Mean score estimates were adjusted for maternal and paternal age at birth, residence, income, maternal education, gestational age at birth and birth weight.
Results
When exposure was due to death of a father the offsprings' mean IQ scores were lower among men completing the military recruitment exam compared to their unexposed counterparts, adjusted difference of 6.5 standard IQ points (p-value = 0.01). We did not observe a clinically significant association between exposure to prenatal maternal bereavement caused by death of a sibling, maternal uncle/aunt or maternal grandparent even after stratifying deaths only due to traumatic events.
Conclusion
We found maternal bereavement to be adversely associated with IQ in male offspring, which could be related to prenatal stress exposure though more likely is due to changes in family conditions after death of the father. This finding supports other literature on maternal adversity during fetal life and cognitive development in the offspring.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088477
PMCID: PMC3928249  PMID: 24558394
9.  Ambient Air Toxics and Asthma Prevalence among a Representative Sample of US Kindergarten-Age Children 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75176.
Background
Criteria pollutants have been associated with exacerbation of children’s asthma, but the role of air toxics in relation to asthma is less clear. Our objective was to evaluate whether exposure to outdoor air toxics in early childhood increased asthma risk or severity.
Methods
Air toxics exposure was estimated using the 2002 National Air toxics Assessment (NATA) and linked to longitudinal data (n=6950) from a representative sample of US children born in 2001 and followed through kindergarten-age in the Early Child Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort (ECLS-B).
Results
Overall, 17.7% of 5.5 year-olds had ever been told by a healthcare professional they had asthma, and 6.8% had been hospitalized or visited an emergency room for an asthma attack. Higher rates of asthma were observed among boys (20.1%), low-income (24.8%), and non-Hispanic black children (30.0%) (p≤0.05). Air toxics exposure was greater for minority race/ethnicity (p<0.0001), low income (p<0.0001), non-rural area (p<0.001). Across all analyses, greater air toxics exposure, as represented by total NATA respiratory hazard index, or when limited to respiratory hazard index from onroad mobile sources or diesel PM, was not associated with a greater prevalence of asthma or hospitalizations (p trend >0.05). In adjusted logistic regression models, children exposed to the highest respiratory hazard index were not more likely to have asthma compared to those exposed to the lowest respiratory hazard index of total, onroad sources, or diesel PM.
Conclusions
Early childhood exposure to outdoor air toxics in a national sample has not previously been studied relative to children’s asthma. Within the constraints of the study, we found no evidence that early childhood exposure to outdoor air toxics increased risk for asthma. As has been previously reported, it is evident that there are environmental justice and disparity concerns for exposure to air toxics and asthma prevalence in US children.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075176
PMCID: PMC3776728  PMID: 24058662
10.  Prenatal Stress Exposure Related to Maternal Bereavement and Risk of Childhood Overweight 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11896.
Background
It has been suggested that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity later in life. In a population–based cohort study, we examined whether prenatal stress related to maternal bereavement during pregnancy was associated with the risk of overweight in offspring during school age.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We followed 65,212 children born in Denmark from 1970–1989 who underwent health examinations from 7 to 13 years of age in public or private schools in Copenhagen. We identified 459 children as exposed to prenatal stress, defined by being born to mothers who were bereaved by death of a close family member from one year before pregnancy until birth of the child. We compared the prevalence of overweight between the exposed and the unexposed. Body mass index (BMI) values and prevalence of overweight were higher in the exposed children, but not significantly so until from 10 years of age and onwards, as compared with the unexposed children. For example, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for overweight was 1.68 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08–2.61) at 12 years of age and 1.63 (95% CI 1.00–2.61) at 13 years of age. The highest ORs were observed when the death occurred in the period from 6 to 0 month before pregnancy (OR 3.31, 95% CI 1.71–6.42 at age 12, and OR 2.31, 95% CI 1.08–4.97 at age 13).
Conclusions/Significance
Our results suggest that severe pre-pregnancy stress is associated with an increased risk of overweight in the offspring in later childhood.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011896
PMCID: PMC2912844  PMID: 20689593
11.  Offspring psychopathology following preconception, prenatal, and postnatal maternal bereavement stress 
Psychological medicine  2013;44(1):10.1017/S0033291713000780.
Background
Preconception, prenatal, and postnatal maternal stress are associated with increased offspring psychopathology, but findings are inconsistent and need replication. We estimated associations between maternal bereavement stress and offspring autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide attempt, and completed suicide.
Methods
Using Swedish registers, we conducted the largest population-based study to date examining associations between stress exposure in 738,144 offspring born 1992–2000 for childhood outcomes and 2,155,221 offspring born 1973–1997 for adult outcomes with follow-up through 2009. Maternal stress was defined as death of a first degree relative during 6 months before conception, across pregnancy, or the first two postnatal years. Cox proportional survival analyses were used to obtain hazard ratios (HR) in unadjusted and adjusted analyses.
Results
Marginal increased risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia following preconception bereavement stress was not significant. Third trimester prenatal stress increased risk of ASD (adjusted HR=1.58, 95% CI: 1.15–2.17) and ADHD (adjusted HR=1.31, 95% CI: 1.04–1.66). First postnatal year stress increased risk for offspring suicide attempt (adjusted HR=1.13, 95% CI: 1.02–1.25) and completed suicide (adjusted HR=1.51, 95% CI: 1.08–2.11). Bereavement stress during the second postnatal year increased risk of ASD (adjusted HR=1.30, 95% CI: 1.09–1.55).
Conclusions
Further research is needed on associations between preconception stress and psychopathological outcomes. Prenatal bereavement stress increases risk of offspring ASD and ADHD. Postnatal bereavement stress moderately increases risk of offspring suicide attempt, completed suicide, and ASD. Smaller previous studies may have overestimated associations between early stress and psychopathological outcomes.
doi:10.1017/S0033291713000780
PMCID: PMC3766407  PMID: 23591021
stress; preconception; prenatal; postnatal; psychiatric; psychopathology; autism; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; schizophrenia; suicide
12.  Mothers' anxiety during pregnancy is associated with asthma in their children 
Background
Maternal stress in early life has been associated with the development of asthma in children, although it is unclear whether there are any critical periods of exposure. The association of asthma with prenatal exposure to maternal stress has not been reported.
Objective
We tested whether prenatal and postnatal anxiety and/or depression in pregnant women predicted the risk of their offspring developing asthma in childhood.
Methods
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is a population-based birth cohort recruited during pregnancy. Data were available on maternal anxiety scores and asthma at age 7½ years in 5810 children. Anxiety was assessed at 18 and 32 weeks of gestation by using the validated Crown-Crisp Experiential Index. Asthma was defined at age 7½ years as doctor-diagnosed asthma with current symptoms or treatment in the previous 12 months. Multivariable logistic regression was used to determine the association of prenatal anxiety with asthma (odds ratio; 95% CI).
Results
Independent of postnatal anxiety and adjusted for a number of likely confounders, there was a higher likelihood of asthma at age 7½ years (odds ratio, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.25-2.17) in children of mothers in the highest compared with lowest quartile of anxiety scores at 32 weeks of gestation, with evidence for a dose-response (P value for trend <0.001).
Conclusions
Maternal anxiety symptoms as an indicator of stress during fetal life may program the development of asthma during childhood.
doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2009.01.042
PMCID: PMC2726292  PMID: 19348924
Anxiety; pregnancy; prenatal programming; asthma; child; ALSPAC, Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; HPA, Hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal; OR, Odds ratio
13.  528 Elevated Asthma Prevalence in Mexican-American Children in El Paso, Texas 
The World Allergy Organization Journal  2012;5(Suppl 2):S184-S185.
Background
In the United States, among Hispanics, Mexican American have the lowest rate of asthma1,2 This study was designed to determine the prevalence of asthma among 5 to 17 year-old children, in El Paso Texas, a community area with a 65.8 % of Hispanic of origin Mexican families.
Methods
Of March 2006 to May 2010, a cross-sectional screening survey was administered to 1108 children of 751 families selected at random from 50 strata of the El Paso County. We used self-reported history of physician-diagnosed asthma. Data were analyzed to determine the prevalence of lifetime and current asthma. Associations between asthma outcomes and variable trigger were evaluated. Chi-square tests were used for statistical comparison. A P value less than 0.05 was considered to be significant. Multivariate logistic regression (GENMOD) adjusting for repeated measures for the family was used to determine the risk of childhood asthma.
Results
Self-reported physician-diagnosed asthma was reported for 25.8 % of children, and current asthma identified in 20.5 % respectively. The prevalence was statistically higher in boys than tin girls (P < 0.05). 243 (90%) Children asthmatics are atopic and 437 (51.8%) children non-asthmatics are atopic. Smoking occurred inside 23.8% of households.26.3% of children had an indoor dog or cat and 21.2% of caregivers reported cockroaches inside the home.
Conclusions
Prevalence of physician-diagnosed asthma in Hispanic of Mexican origin, ever asthma and current asthma, were higher than those reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of asthma in 2007. Although most children with asthma are atopic (90%) a significant proportion (51.8 %) of atopic children do not have asthma. Children with a parent with asthma were almost twice as likely (OR = 2.40) to have asthma compared those without a parent with asthma. Children with a parent and grandparent with asthma were over 4 times likely to have asthma compared to those without a parent and grandparent with asthma (OR = 4.97). Maternal asthma confers greater asthma risk to offspring than do paternal or parental asthma.
doi:10.1097/01.WOX.0000411643.26453.53
PMCID: PMC3512841
14.  Association of Birth Weight With Asthma-Related Outcomes at Age 2 Years 
Pediatric pulmonology  2006;41(7):643-648.
Summary. Background: Although lower birth weight associated with prematurity raises the risk of asthma in childhood, few prospective studies have examined higher birth weight, and few have separated the two components of birth weight, fetal growth and length of gestation.
Objective. To examine the associations of fetal growth and length of gestation with asthma-related outcomes by age 2 years.
Methods. We studied 1,372 infants and toddlers born after 34 weeks’ gestation in Project Viva, a prospective cohort study of pregnant mothers and their children. The main outcome measures were parent report of (1) any wheezing (or whistling in the chest) from birth to age 2 years, (2) recurrent wheezing during the first 2 years of life, and (3) doctor’s diagnosis of asthma, wheeze or reactive airwaydisease (“asthma”) by age 2. We calculated gestational age from the last menstrual period or ultrasound examination, and determined birth weight for gestational age z-value (“fetal growth”) using US national reference data.
Results. Infants’ mean birth weight was 3,527 (SD, 517; range, 1,559–5,528) grams. By age 2 years, 34% of children had any wheezing, 14% had recurrent wheezing, and 16% had doctor-diagnosed asthma. After adjusting for several parent, child, and household characteristics in logistic regression models, we found that infants with birth weight ≥4,000 g were not more likely to have any wheezing (odds ratio (OR), 0.91; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.62, 1.34) or doctor-diagnosed asthma (OR, 0.80; 95% CI: 0.49, 1.31) than infants with birth weight 3,500–3,999 g. In models examining length of gestation and fetal growth separately, neither the highest nor the lowest groups of either predictor were associated with the three outcomes. Boys had a higher incidence of asthma-related outcomes than girls, and exposure to passive smoking, parental history of asthma, and exposure to older siblings were all associated with greater risk of recurrent wheeze or asthma-related outcomes at age 2 years.
Conclusion. Although male sex, exposure to smoking, parental history of asthma, and exposure to older siblingswere associated with increased riskof wheezing and asthma-related outcomes in this prospective study of children born after 34 weeks gestation, fetal growth and length of gestation were not.
doi:10.1002/ppul.20427
PMCID: PMC1488724  PMID: 16703577
asthma; birth weight; fetal growth; length of gestation; wheezing
15.  Impact of Maternal Obesity on Inhaled Corticosteroid Use in Childhood: A Registry Based Analysis of First Born Children and a Sibling Pair Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67368.
Background
It has been proposed that maternal obesity during pregnancy may increase the risk that the child develops allergic disease and asthma, although the mechanisms underpinning this relationship are currently unclear. We sought to assess if this association may be due to confounding by genetic or environmental risk factors that are common to maternal obesity and childhood asthma, using a sibling pair analysis.
Methods
The study population comprised a Swedish national cohort of term children born between 1992 and 2008 to native Swedish parents. Maternal body mass index (BMI) was measured at 8–10 weeks gestation. Unconditional logistic regression models were used to determine if maternal obesity was associated with increased risk of inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) in 431,718 first-born children, while adjusting for potential confounders. An age-matched discordant sib-pair analysis was performed, taking into account shared genetic and environmental risk factors.
Results
Maternal over-weight and obesity were associated with increased risk that the child would require ICS (for BMI≥35 kg/m2, aOR = 1.30, 95%CI = 1.10–1.52 compared with normal weight mothers) in children aged 6–12 years. Similar effects were seen in younger children, but in children aged 13–16 years, maternal obesity (BMI≥30) was related to increased risk of ICS use in girls (aOR = 1.28, 95%CI = 1.07–1.53) but not boys (OR = 1.05, 95%CI = 0.87–1.26). The sib-pair analysis, which included 2,034 sib-pairs older than six years who were discordant for both ICS use and maternal BMI category, failed to find any evidence that increasing maternal weight was related to increased risk of ICS use.
Conclusion
Maternal obesity is associated with increased risk of childhood ICS use up to approximately 12 years of age, but only in girls after this age. These effects could not be confirmed in a sib pair analysis, suggesting either limited statistical power, or the effects of maternal BMI may be due to shared genetic or environmental risk factors.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067368
PMCID: PMC3696102  PMID: 23840681
16.  IFNG genotype and sex interact to influence risk of childhood asthma 
Background
Asthma is a complex disease characterized by sex-specific differences in incidence, prevalence and severity, but little is known about the molecular basis of these sex differences. Objective: To investigate the genetic architecture of sex differences in asthma risk, we evaluated i) associations between polymorphisms in the interferon-gamma (IFNG) gene and childhood onset asthma in combined and sex-specific samples, and ii) interactions between polymorphisms and sex on asthma risk.
Methods
Main and sex-interaction effects of IFNG genetic diversity on asthma risk and IFN-γ levels were examined in a birth cohort of children at high risk for asthma and allergic diseases. Replication of the genetic association was assessed in an independent sample of asthma cases.
Results
Significant genotype-by-sex interactions on asthma were observed for two IFNG SNPs, rs2069727 and rs2430561, which were in strong linkage disequilibrium with each other. In contrast, none of the ten IFNG SNPs showed significant main effects on asthma. The observed genotype-by-sex interaction on asthma was characterized by non-additivity, i.e. heterozygote boys had the highest risk for asthma, while heterozygote girls had the lowest risk. The interaction effect was robust to other asthma risk factors but was limited to children who experienced wheezing illnesses with viral infections during the first three years of life. Genotype-by-sex interactions were also observed in IFN-γ response to LPS in the first year of life. Finally, the sex interaction effect was replicated in an independent population of childhood asthma cases.
Conclusions
These results provide insight into the genetic basis of sex differences in asthma and highlight the potential importance of interactions among sex, genotype, and environmental factors in asthma pathogenesis.
doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2011.06.016
PMCID: PMC3548570  PMID: 21798578
IFN-γ; asthma; children; sex differences; single nucleotide polymorphism; association study
17.  Early life bereavement and childhood cancer: a nationwide follow-up study in two countries 
BMJ Open  2013;3(5):e002864.
Objective
Childhood cancer is a leading cause of child deaths in affluent countries, but little is known about its aetiology. Psychological stress has been suggested to be associated with cancer in adults; whether this is also seen in childhood cancer is largely unknown. We investigated the association between bereavement as an indicator of severe childhood stress exposure and childhood cancer, using data from Danish and Swedish national registers.
Design
Population-based cohort study.
Setting
Denmark and Sweden.
Participants
All live-born children born in Denmark between 1968 and 2007 (n=2 729 308) and in Sweden between 1973 and 2006 (n=3 395 166) were included in this study. Exposure was bereavement by the death of a close relative before 15 years of age. Follow-up started from birth and ended at the first of the following: date of a cancer diagnosis, death, emigration, day before their 15th birthday or end of follow-up (2007 in Denmark, 2006 in Sweden).
Outcome measures
Rates and HRs for all childhood cancers and specific childhood cancers.
Results
A total of 1 505 938 (24.5%) children experienced bereavement at some point during their childhood and 9823 were diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15 years. The exposed children had a small (10%) increased risk of childhood cancer (HR 1.10; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.17). For specific cancers, a significant association was seen only for central nervous system tumours (HR 1.14; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.28).
Conclusions
Our data suggest that psychological stress in early life is associated with a small increased risk of childhood cancer.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002864
PMCID: PMC3664350  PMID: 23793702
Childhood cancer; bereavement; psychological stress; risk factor; follow up
18.  Psychological disturbance and service provision in parentally bereaved children: prospective case-control study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1999;319(7206):354-357.
Objectives
To identify whether psychiatric disturbance in parentally bereaved children and surviving parents is related to service provision.
Design
Prospective case-control study.
Setting
Two adjacent outer London health authorities.
Participants
45 bereaved families with children aged 2 to 16 years.
Main outcome measures
Psychological disturbance in parentally bereaved children and surviving parents, and statistical associations between sample characteristics and service provision.
Results
Parentally bereaved children and surviving parents showed higher than expected levels of psychiatric difficulties. Boys were more affected than girls, and bereaved mothers had more mental health difficulties than bereaved fathers. Levels of psychiatric disturbance in children were higher when parents showed probable psychiatric disorder. Service provision related to the age of the children and the manner of parental death. Children under 5 years of age were less likely to be offered services than older children even though their parents desired it. Children were significantly more likely to be offered services when the parent had committed suicide or when the death was expected. Children least likely to receive service support were those who were not in touch with services before parental death.
Conclusions
Service provision was not significantly related to parental wishes or to level of psychiatric disturbance in parents or children. There is a role for general practitioners and primary care workers in identifying psychologically distressed surviving parents whose children may be psychiatrically disturbed, and referring them to appropriate services.
Key messagesParentally bereaved children show high levels of psychological disturbance, with boys being more vulnerable than girlsSurviving mothers show more psychiatric morbidity than surviving fathersPsychological distress in bereaved parents is associated with psychological difficulties in their childrenService provision for bereaved children is not determined by mental health difficulties in either parents or children, or by parental wishes; it is influenced only by the manner of parental death and the age of the childThe mismatch between need and service provision indicates a role for general practitioners and primary care workers in identifying distressed or disturbed families in need of public or voluntary service help
PMCID: PMC28190  PMID: 10435957
19.  Severe Maternal Stress Exposure Due to Bereavement before, during and after Pregnancy and Risk of Overweight and Obesity in Young Adult Men: A Danish National Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97490.
Background
Perinatal stress may programme overweight and obesity. We examined whether maternal pre- and post-natal bereavement was associated with overweight and obesity in young men.
Methods
A cohort study was conducted including 119,908 men born from 1976 to 1993 and examined for military service between 2006 and 2011. Among them, 4,813 conscripts were born to mothers bereaved by death of a close relative from 12 months preconception to birth of the child (exposed group). Median body mass index (BMI) and prevalence of overweight and obesity were estimated. Odds ratio of overweight (BMI≥25 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI≥30 kg/m2) were estimated by logistic regression analysis adjusted for maternal educational level.
Results
Median BMI was similar in the exposed and the unexposed group but the prevalence of overweight (33.3% versus 30.4%, p = 0.02) and obesity (9.8% versus 8.5%, p = 0.06) was higher in the exposed group. Conscripts exposed 6 to 0 months before conception and during pregnancy had a higher risk of overweight (odds ratio 1.15, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03; 1.27 and odds ratio 1.13, 95% CI: 1.03; 1.25, respectively). Conscripts born to mothers who experienced death of the child’s biological father before child birth had a two-fold risk of obesity (odds ratio 2.00, 95% CI: 0.93; 4.31). There was no elevated risk in those who experienced maternal bereavement postnatally.
Conclusion
Maternal bereavement during the prenatal period was associated with increased risk of overweight or obesity in a group of young male conscripts, and this may possibly be reflected to severe stress exposure early in life. However, not all associations were clear, and further studies are warranted.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097490
PMCID: PMC4020839  PMID: 24828434
20.  Antenatal maternal bereavement and childhood cancer in the offspring: a population-based cohort study in 6 million children 
British Journal of Cancer  2012;107(3):544-548.
Background:
Prenatal stress may increase the susceptibility to childhood cancer by affecting immune responses and hormonal balance. We examined whether antenatal stress following maternal bereavement increased the risk of childhood cancer.
Methods:
All children born in Denmark from 1968 to 2007 (N=2 743 560) and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006 (N=3 400 212) were included in this study. We compared cancer risks in children born to women who lost a first-degree relative (a child, spouse, a parent, or a sibling) the year before pregnancy or during pregnancy with cancer risks in children of women who did not experience such bereavement.
Results:
A total of 9795 childhood cancer cases were observed during follow-up of 68 360 707 person years. Children born to women who lost a child or a spouse, but not those who lost other relatives, had an average 30% increased risk of any cancer (hazard ratio (HR) 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.96–1.77). The HRs were the highest for non-Hodgkin disease (512 cases in total, HR 3.40, 95% CI 1.51–7.65), hepatic cancer (125 cases in total, HR 5.51, 95% CI 1.34–22.64), and testicular cancer (86 cases in total, HR 8.52, 95% CI 2.03–37.73).
Conclusion:
Our data suggest that severe antenatal stress following maternal bereavement, especially due to loss of a child or a spouse, is associated with an increased risk of certain childhood cancers in the offspring, such as hepatic cancer and non-Hodgkin disease, but not with childhood cancer in general.
doi:10.1038/bjc.2012.288
PMCID: PMC3405225  PMID: 22759879
childhood cancer; bereavement; prenatal stress; mother; association
21.  The effect of parental allergy on childhood allergic diseases depends on the sex of the child 
Background
Parent of origin effect is important in understanding the genetic basis of childhood allergic diseases and to improve our ability to identify high risk children.
Objective
To investigate parent of origin effect in childhood allergic diseases.
Methods
The Isle of Wight Birth Cohort (n=1,456) has been examined at 1, 2, 4, 10 and 18-years. Information on prevalence of asthma, eczema, rhinitis and environmental factors was obtained using validated questionnaires. Skin prick tests were carried out at ages 4, 10 and 18 year, and total IgE at 10 and 18 years. Parental history of allergic disease was assessed soon after the birth of the child when maternal IgE was also measured. Prevalence ratios (PR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated, applying log-linear models, adjusted for confounding variables.
Results
When stratified for sex of the child, maternal asthma was associated with asthma in girls [PR:1.91 (CI:1.34–2.72), p=0.0003], but not in boys [PR:1.29 (CI:0.85–1.96), p=0.23), while paternal asthma was associated with asthma in boys [PR:1.99 (CI:1.42–2.79), p<0.0001], but not in girls [PR: 1.03 (0.59–1.80) p=0.92). Maternal eczema increased the risk of eczema in girls [PR: 1.92 (CI: 1.37–2.68); p=0.0001] only, while paternal eczema did the same for boys (PR: 2.07 (CI:1.32–3.25); P=0.002). Similar trends were observed when the effect of maternal and paternal allergic disease was assessed for childhood atopy and when maternal total IgE was related to total IgE in children at age 10 and 18 years.
Conclusions
The current study indicates a sex dependent association of parental allergic conditions with childhood allergies; maternal allergy increasing the risk in girls and paternal allergy in boys. This has implications for childhood allergy prediction and prevention.
doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2012.03.042
PMCID: PMC3409323  PMID: 22607991
maternal; paternal; sex; cohort; parent of origin; atopy; asthma; eczema; rhinitis; allergy; IgE
22.  Modifiable exposures to air pollutants related to asthma phenotypes in the first year of life in children of the EDEN mother-child cohort study 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:506.
Background
Studies have shown diverse strength of evidence for the associations between air pollutants and childhood asthma, but these associations have scarcely been documented in the early life. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impacts of various air pollutants on the development of asthma phenotypes in the first year of life.
Methods
Adjusted odds ratios were estimated to assess the relationships between exposures to air pollutants and single and multi-dimensional asthma phenotypes in the first year of life in children of the EDEN mother-child cohort study (n = 1,765 mother-child pairs). The Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) model was used to determine the associations between prenatal maternal smoking and in utero exposure to traffic-related air pollution and asthma phenotypes (data were collected when children were at birth, and at 4, 8 and 12 months of age). Adjusted Population Attributable Risk (aPAR) was estimated to measure the impacts of air pollutants on health outcomes.
Results
In the first year of life, both single and multi-dimensional asthma phenotypes were positively related to heavy parental smoking, traffic-related air pollution and dampness, but negatively associated with contact with cats and domestic wood heating. Adjusted odds ratios (aORs) for traffic-related air pollution were the highest [1.71 (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.08-2.72) for ever doctor-diagnosed asthma, 1.44 (95% CI: 1.05-1.99) for bronchiolitis with wheezing, 2.01 (95% CI: 1.23-3.30) for doctor-diagnosed asthma with a history of bronchiolitis]. The aPARs based on these aORs were 13.52%, 9.39%, and 17.78%, respectively. Results persisted for prenatal maternal smoking and in utero exposure to traffic-related air pollution, although statistically significant associations were observed only with the asthma phenotype of ever bronchiolitis.
Conclusions
After adjusting for potential confounders, traffic-related air pollution in utero life and in the first year of life, had a greater impact on the development of asthma phenotypes compared to other factors.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-506
PMCID: PMC3671198  PMID: 23705590
Environment; Traffic-related air pollution; Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS); Pets; Moulds; Asthma; Children
23.  Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding, Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy, and Recurrent Lower Respiratory Tract Infections on Asthma in Children 
The effect of breastfeeding on asthma is controversial, which may be explained by related and interacting early childhood risk factors. We assessed the joint effects of a risk-triad consisting of maternal smoking during pregnancy, breastfeeding for less than 3 months, and recurrent lower respiratory tract infections (RLRTI) on physician-diagnosed childhood asthma. The association was assessed in the Isle of Wight birth cohort study (1989–1990) using a repeated measurement approach with data collection at birth, and at ages 1, 2, 4, and 10 years. The population consists of 1,456 children recruited between January 1989 and February 1990. Prenatal smoking, breastfeeding for less than 3 months, and recurrent lower respiratory infections (RLRTI) were combined into eight risk-triads. Relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated with a log-linear model. The risk-triad involving RLRTI in infancy, maternal smoking during pregnancy, and breastfeeding for less than 3 months showed a stronger association with asthma at ages 4 and 10 compared to other risk-triads (RR of 5.79 for any asthma at ages 1, 2, 4, and 10; and 3.1 for asthma at ages 4 and 10). Of the three individual risk factors, RLRTI appeared to be the major driver of the combined effects in the risk-triads. The effect of RLRTI on asthma was modified by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for ≥3 months also attenuated the effect of prenatal smoking on asthma in children without RLRTI. A high proportion of asthma cases in childhood can be prevented by promoting breastfeeding, by preventing smoking during pregnancy, and by avoidance of recurrent lower respiratory tract infections in early childhood.
doi:10.1080/02770900802178306
PMCID: PMC2700345  PMID: 18951262
asthma; cohort study; breastfeeding; smoking; child; lower respiratory tract infections
24.  Prenatal Maternal Stress Predicts Childhood Asthma in Girls: Project Ice Storm 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:201717.
Little is known about how prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) influences risks of asthma in humans. In this small study, we sought to determine whether disaster-related PNMS would predict asthma risk in children. In June 1998, we assessed severity of objective hardship and subjective distress in women pregnant during the January 1998 Quebec Ice Storm. Lifetime asthma symptoms, diagnoses, and corticosteroid utilization were assessed when the children were 12 years old (N = 68). No effects of objective hardship or timing of the exposure were found. However, we found that, in girls only, higher levels of prenatal maternal subjective distress predicted greater lifetime risk of wheezing (OR = 1.11; 90% CI = 1.01–1.23), doctor-diagnosed asthma (OR = 1.09; 90% CI = 1.00–1.19), and lifetime utilization of corticosteroids (OR = 1.12; 90% CI = 1.01–1.25). Other perinatal and current maternal life events were also associated with asthma outcomes. Findings suggest that stress during pregnancy opens a window for fetal programming of immune functioning. A sex-based approach may be useful to examine how prenatal and postnatal environments combine to program the immune system. This small study needs to be replicated with a larger, more representative sample.
doi:10.1155/2014/201717
PMCID: PMC4034394  PMID: 24895550
25.  Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Bereavement and Childbirths in the Offspring: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103353.
Introduction
The decline in birth rates is a concern in public health. Fertility is partly determined before birth by the intrauterine environment and prenatal exposure to maternal stress could, through hormonal disturbance, play a role. There has been such evidence from animal studies but not from humans. We aimed to examine the association between prenatal stress due to maternal bereavement following the death of a relative and childbirths in the offspring.
Materials and Methods
This population-based cohort study included all subjects born in Denmark after 1968 and in Sweden after 1973 and follow-up started at the age of 12 years. Subjects were categorized as exposed if their mothers lost a close relative during pregnancy or the year before and unexposed otherwise. The main outcomes were age at first child and age-specific mean numbers of childbirths. Data was analyzed using Cox Proportional Hazards models stratified by gender and adjusted for several covariates. Subanalyses were performed considering the type of relative deceased and timing of bereavement.
Results
A total of 4,121,596 subjects were followed-up until up to 41 years of age. Of these subjects, 93,635 (2.3%) were exposed and 981,989 (23.8%) had at least one child during follow-up time. Compared to unexposed, the hazard ratio (HR) [95% confidence interval] of having at least one child for exposed males and females were 0.98 [0.96–1.01] and 1.01 [0.98–1.03], respectively. We found a slightly reduced probability of having children in females born to mothers who lost a parent with HR = 0.97 [0.94–0.99] and increased probability in females born to mothers who lost another child (HR = 1.09 [1.04–1.14]), the spouse (HR = 1.29 [1.12–1.48]) or a sibling (HR = 1.13 [1.01–1.27]).
Conclusions
Our results suggested no overall association between prenatal exposure to maternal stress and having a child in early adulthood but a longer time of follow-up is necessary in order to reach a firmer conclusion.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103353
PMCID: PMC4113360  PMID: 25068458

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