Open Access Open Badges Research article

Asthma beliefs among mothers and children from different ethnic origins living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

QM van Dellen1*, WMC van Aalderen1, PJE Bindels2, FG Öry3, J Bruil3, K Stronks4 and PEACE study group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Paediatric Pulmonology, Emma Children's Hospital, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

3 TNO Quality of Life, Division Prevention and Health, P.O. Box 2215, 2301 CE, Leiden, the Netherlands

4 Department of Social Medicine, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam Meibergdreef 9, 1105 AZ, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:380  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-380

Published: 3 November 2008



Doctors and patients hold varying beliefs concerning illness and treatment. Patients' and families' explanatory models (EMs) vary according to personality and sociocultural factors. In a multi-ethnic society, it is becoming increasingly significant that doctors understand the different beliefs of their patients in order to improve patient/doctor communication as well as patient adherence to treatment.


Twelve focus groups were formed, consisting of 40 children diagnosed with asthma, as well as 28 mothers of these children. These groups included mothers and children of different ethnicities who were living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In order to understand the beliefs that both mothers and children hold regarding asthma and its treatment, the explanatory models were analysed and compared.


Study findings show that mothers and children, regardless of ethnicity and age, have their own EMs. Overall, there is a great deal of uncertainty related to the causes, consequences, problems, and symptoms of asthma and its treatment. It also seems that many concerns and feelings of discomfort are the result of lack of knowledge. For instance, the fact that asthma is not seen as a chronic disease requiring daily intake of an inhaled corticosteroid, but rather as an acute phenomenon triggered by various factors, may be very relevant for clinical practice. This particular belief might suggest an explanation for non-adherent behaviour.


A thorough understanding of the mothers' and children's beliefs regarding the illness and its treatment is an important aspect in the management of asthma. Gaining an understanding of these beliefs will provide a foundation for a solid clinician-patient/family partnership in asthma care. Although ethnic differences were observed, the similarities between the mothers' and children's beliefs in this multi-ethnic population were striking. In particular, a common belief is that asthma is considered an acute rather than a chronic condition. In addition, there is a lack of knowledge about the course and the self-management of asthma. Health care providers should be aware of these commonly held beliefs, and this information could be shared in educational programs.