Background - As more developing countries adopt a westernised style of living, an increase in the prevalence of asthma can be expected to occur in these areas. A study was undertaken to establish the normal response to exercise in Ghanaian children and to use these normal values to determine the prevalence of exercise induced bronchospasm (EIB) in urban rich (UR), urban poor (UP), and rural (R) school children. Skin test reactivity to common inhalant allergens in UR, UP, and R children with and without EIB was also investigated. Methods - Two hundred children aged 9-16 years without a previous history of respiratory symptoms were randomly selected and underwent free running exercise testing. A normal response to exercise was defined as the group mean change in peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) ±2 standard deviations. This value was used to identify the prevalence of EIB in UR, UP, and R schoolchildren. A total of 1095 children from three different schools underwent exercise testing (220 UP, 599 UR, 276 R), after which 916 children underwent skin prick testing to six common inhalant allergens (D farinae, D pteronyssinus, cat, dog, Aspergillus flavus and Candida albicans). Results - From the results of exercise testing in asymptomatic children the normal range was defined as a fall in PEFR of <12.5% after exercise. Thirty four children were classified as having EIB on the basis of the above definition, giving an overall prevalence of 3.1%. The prevalence of EIB was significantly higher in UR children (4.7%) than in both UP (2.2%; p <0.05) and R children (1.4%; p <0.01). However, the prevalence rates in the UP and R children were similar. The prevalence of atopy in the whole population was 4.4%. Of the children with EIB, 10% were skin test positive to at least one of the allergens tested. The prevalence of atopy was significantty higher in UR chlidren (6.55%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 4.5% to 9.2%) than in UP (2.9%, 95% CI 0.9% to 6.7%) and R children (1.5%, 95% CI 0.4% to 3.7%), respectively (p <0.005). Conclusions - The prevalence of EIB and atopy is higher in urban rich than in urban poor or rural children suggesting that, in addition to genetic predisposition, social and environmental factors such as wealth, life style, and housing are important determinants of these phenotypes.