July 4, 2009

Childhood Asthma Triggered By Social Factors

New research reveals that childhood asthma is less prevalent in neighborhoods with a highly prosperous economy and dynamic community vigor, Reuters reported.

"It's nice to be able to look at some positive characteristics of neighborhoods that may protect against asthma," Dr. Ruchi S. Gupta, of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health. "We're always looking at negative characteristics."

Until this study, there has been very little research on how social aspects contribute to the commonness of the disease, Gupta and her associates wrote in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Most of the research surrounding childhood asthma has been predominantly focused on the role economic and environmental factors play. 

Results from a collection of these studies demonstrated vast differences in asthma incidence among Chicago neighborhoods, and in the current study, researchers observed whether community characteristics might clarify these differences.  

Between 2003 and 2005, researchers examined asthma screening surveys of 45,177 children attending Chicago public schools, and then mapped all of the children into 287 different neighborhoods.  Based on a four-group ranking system, the neighborhoods were further categorized according to asthma cases.

They found that neighborhoods with low asthma incidence had higher scores on the Community Vitality Index, a rating system that combines scores for social capital, economic potential, and community amenities. These neighborhoods also revealed higher economic potential.

Social capital, which measures the degree of civic involvement among constituents in conjunction with other factors, was the dominant factor, according to the study. Researchers were careful to take into account the racial makeup of the neighborhoods in determining their findings.

Gupta advocates the findings warrant policy changes within these communities would help minimize incidence of asthma.

"It's not like you're going to be able to go in and give everyone a job, but you can empower people to make positive changes in their neighborhoods," she explained.

According to research findings, ironically, more stable communities and those that scored higher on measures of neighborhood relations had a higher prevalence of asthma.

The neighborhood relational score was founded partly on having a higher percentage of households with at least one member who was not employed, as well as a lower percentage of single-person households, Gupta noted.

The investigators emphasized that, "Although one can understand how these factors may lead to increased interaction, they may also signify crowding and poverty." Additionally, the less-common household turnover in more secure households may point to less comprehensive cleaning, allowing for mold and cockroaches to multiply. 


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On The Net:

Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology