August 25, 2006

New York, NY — Urban children born with low birthweight are twice as likely as children who are not low birthweight to develop childhood asthma by the age of three, according to a study by Dr. Lenna Nepomnyaschy at the Columbia University School of Social Work and co-author Dr. Nancy E. Reichman at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, also found that neighborhood housing conditions are associated with childhood asthma above and beyond low birthweight and other risk factors.

In the last two decades, the number of children diagnosed with asthma has nearly doubled, and asthma has now become one of the most common chronic childhood conditions in the United States. Although a number of studies have found associations between asthma and individuals’ own housing characteristics — such as indoor allergens, vermin, and mold — very few have considered surrounding neighborhood housing conditions. Dr. Nepomnyaschy’s study found that high census-tract vacancy and renter-occupied housing rates are associated with asthma among young children. High vacancy rates may represent less safe environments, less exercise and less fresh air, while high rates of renter-occupied housing may reflect residential instability or poorly maintained housing. Both are associated with poor health outcomes, including asthma.

“The results from the study confirm that low birthweight is an independent predictor of childhood asthma in young urban children,” said Dr. Nepomnyaschy. “Further analysis of individual and neighborhood housing characteristics is necessary to understand how these factors come together to increase the risk of childhood asthma.”

The study analyzed a sample of 1,800 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000 who were followed through age three. Births were randomly selected in 75 hospitals in 20 U.S. cities, including New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Nashville and San Jose. The study assessed the extent to which the association between low birthweight and childhood asthma in the urban population can be explained by an extensive set of demographic, socioeconomic, medical, and maternal medical risk factors. The study is also among the first to include measures of neighborhood housing quality and poverty at the census-tract level.

The study was part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national longitudinal birth cohort survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a consortium of other funders. To obtain a copy of Dr. Nepomnyaschy’s study or for more information, please contact Jeannie Yip at 212-851-2327 or jy2223@columbia.edu.

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