Parental socioeconomic position (SEP) is a known determinant of a child's health. We aimed to investigate whether a low parental education, as proxy of SEP, has a direct effect on physician-diagnosed asthma, current asthma and current allergic rhinitis in children, or whether associations are mediated by exposure to other personal or environmental risk factors. This study was a secondary data analysis of two cross-sectional studies conducted in Italy in 2006. Data from 2687 adolescents (10-14 years) were analyzed by a path analysis model using generalized structural equation modelling. Significant direct effects were found between parental education and family characteristics (number of children (coefficient = 0.6229, p < 0.001) and crowding index (1.1263, p < 0.001)) as well as with exposure to passive smoke: during pregnancy (maternal: 0.4697, p < 0.001; paternal: 0.4854, p < 0.001), during the first two years of children's life (0.5897, p < 0.001) and currently (0.6998, p < 0.001). An indirect effect of parental education was found on physician-diagnosed asthma in children mediated by maternal smoking during pregnancy (0.2350, p < 0.05) and on current allergic rhinitis mediated by early environmental tobacco smoke (0.2002; p < 0.05). These results suggest the importance of promotion of ad-hoc health policies for promoting smoking cessation, especially during pregnancy.
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