UW Health: Asthma rates higher among Black and Hispanic kids regardless of neighborhood income, density

MADISON (WKBT) – A new study shows rates of childhood asthma are higher in Black and Hispanic children, despite income or population density, according to UW Health officials.

The research included data from 5,809 children born throughout the US over the span of 40 years. Researchers at each of 10 study site locations used questionnaires and interviews to collect information over many years from parents and children including demographics, wheezing and asthma occurrence and medical history. Researchers examined the relationship between incidence of wheezing and asthma with children’s race and ethnicity, their mother’s education level and smoking habits and socioeconomic conditions of the neighborhood in which they were born.

“This study found that poverty and low-income status is associated with asthma, but that’s not all,” Dr. James Gern, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said. “There are other things that we need to identify that are also associated with increased asthma rates in Black and Hispanic children.”

Wheezing and asthma were common. Of the 5,809 children, 46% experienced wheezing in their first year of life, with 26% having wheezing through age 11. Diagnosis of asthma by age 11 varied by cohort, with an overall median prevalence of 25%. Children in neighborhoods with higher population density and with more low-income households and families living below the poverty level experienced more asthma, as well as early and persistent wheeze.

Black and Hispanic children remained at higher risk of asthma than white children, even in neighborhoods with higher income. The researchers suggest that the social and environmental legacy of structural racism may broadly and adversely influence respiratory health.

“Neighborhood and individual level characteristics and their root causes should be considered as sources of respiratory health inequities,” Antonella Zanobetti, principal research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said. “Reducing these inequities requires identifying and repairing differences between and within neighborhoods to create equal access to healthy living conditions.”

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