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Kids whose families left distressed neighborhoods had significantly fewer severe asthma attacks, with improvements greater even than those seen with medication.
New research found that children whose families participated in a program that enabled them to move to areas with less poverty, and better schools and parks had about 50% fewer severe attacks.
After moving, there were about 40 severe asthma attacks per year for every 100 children, compared to 88 before the move.
“That degree of improvement is larger than the effect we see with asthma medications,” said senior study author Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, a professor of population health and pediatrics at Dell Medical School of the University of Texas at Austin.
“We were also surprised to find that improvements in neighborhood stressors, including feeling safer in their new community and experiencing better social cohesion with neighbors, seemed to be major factors in the improvements in asthma,” Matsui added in a university news release.
The study attributed between 20% and 35% of improvement in asthma symptoms to a reduction in neighborhood-related stress. The study included 123 children, aged 5 to 17, whose families enrolled in a six-year housing mobility program in Baltimore.
After moving, children had asthma symptoms just three days over two weeks, compared to five days before.
“These findings confirm what we've long suspected: A big part of the asthma burden is not about who you are. It's about where you live,” Matsui said. “This study demonstrates that programs designed to counter housing discrimination can have significant positive health effects for the children who move.”
Previous efforts to improve asthma by reducing exposure to mouse and cockroach allergens at home were less effective.
Other cities with similar housing mobility programs could see similar outcomes, Matsui said.
Black and Hispanic children are more likely to live in distressed, urban areas because of historical and current-day housing discrimination, she noted, and these findings may explain persistent racial and ethnic disparities in childhood asthma.
“For example, we know kids in the poorest neighborhoods in Austin and Travis County have the highest burden of asthma emergency department visits and that these kids tend to be Black and Hispanic,” Matsui said. “The results of our study suggest that if those children lived in better-resourced neighborhoods, their emergency hospital visits would be greatly reduced.”
The study findings were published May 16 in the Journal of the American Medical Association..
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on asthma in children.
SOURCE: University of Texas at Austin, news release, May 16, 2023
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