High burden of atopy in immigrant families in substandard apartments in Sweden – on the contribution of bad housing to poor health in vulnerable populations

Jens Richter, Kristina Jakobsson, Tahir Taj, Anna Oudin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Atopic disorders are a global concern. Studies in migrant populations can illuminate the interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Exposures related to bad housing (indoor dampness, mould growth, crowding etc.) are likely to play a role in how socioeconomic inequalities can turn into health disparities for disadvantaged populations. The sizable immigrant population living in very poor-quality housing in Malmö, Sweden, became the focus of a cross-sectional study. Objective: To describe atopic disorders and sensitizations in a population living in substandard housing in Malmö, Sweden, with an emphasis on their relation to harmful exposures from the built environment. Methods: Families were recruited via identification of any children with symptomatic airway afflictions from health care records, and also asymptomatic children from school lists. Interviewer-led health questionnaire data and data from self-reports about living conditions were obtained together with data from home inspections carried out by health communicators. Families underwent skin prick tests (SPT) against common aeroallergens. Results: As could be expected from background demographic information, it turned out that we effectively studied an immigrant population inhabiting very precarious housing outside the center of Malmö. A total of 359 children from 130 families (total 650 participants) were included. Overall the prevalence of potentially harmful environmental exposures was high (signs of moisture or mould in more than 50% of apartments, indoor smoking in 37% of households). Atopic disorders were common among both adults and children. SPTs showed a spectrum of sensitizations consistent with unselected populations in Sweden. Paternal sensitization in the SPT was associated with higher risk of sensitization for offspring than maternal sensitization. Few statistically significant associations of atopic sensitization with studied environmental exposures were detected (for example objective signs of dampness /mould in bathrooms). There were marked discrepancies between asthma diagnoses obtained from the health records and parental reports of such diagnoses and treatment for their children. Conclusions: The atopic burden in this selected immigrant population was high, and results point to unmet medical needs. Health care systems caring for such populations need to be aware of their specific health needs; comprehensive asthma and allergy care should include consideration of harmful environmental exposures, adhering to the precautionary principle.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalWorld Allergy Organization Journal
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2018 May 15

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Respiratory Medicine and Allergy


Dive into the research topics of 'High burden of atopy in immigrant families in substandard apartments in Sweden – on the contribution of bad housing to poor health in vulnerable populations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this