Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Global asthma prevalence in adults: findings from the cross-sectional world health survey

Teresa To1239*, Sanja Stanojevic1, Ginette Moores14, Andrea S Gershon1235, Eric D Bateman6, Alvaro A Cruz7 and Louis-Philippe Boulet8

Author affiliations

1 Child Health Evaluative Sciences, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

2 University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3 The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

4 McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

5 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

6 University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

7 ProAR - Núcleo de ExcelênciaemAsma, Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia, UFBA, Salvador, Brazil

8 Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

9 Child Health Evaluative Sciences, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:204  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-204

Published: 19 March 2012



Asthma is a major cause of disability, health resource utilization and poor quality of life world-wide. We set out to generate estimates of the global burden of asthma in adults, which may inform the development of strategies to address this common disease.


The World Health Survey (WHS) was developed and implemented by the World Health Organization in 2002-2003. A total of 178,215 individuals from 70 countries aged 18 to 45 years responded to questions related to asthma and related symptoms. The prevalence of asthma was based on responses to questions relating to self-reported doctor diagnosed asthma, clinical/treated asthma, and wheezing in the last 12 months.


The global prevalence rates of doctor diagnosed asthma, clinical/treated asthma and wheezing in adults were 4.3%, 4.5%, and 8.6% respectively, and varied by as much as 21-fold amongst the 70 countries. Australia reported the highest rate of doctor diagnosed, clinical/treated asthma, and wheezing (21.0%, 21.5%, and 27.4%). Amongst those with clinical/treated asthma, almost 24% were current smokers, half reported wheezing, and 20% had never been treated for asthma.


This study provides a global estimate of the burden of asthma in adults, and suggests that asthma continues to be a major public health concern worldwide. The high prevalence of smoking remains a major barrier to combating the global burden of asthma. While the highest prevalence rates were observed in resource-rich countries, resource-poor nations were also significantly affected, posing a barrier to development as it stretches further the demands of non-communicable diseases.