Unlocking Asthma's Mysteries

Research conducted by Matthew Perzanowski, PhD, assistant professor Environmental Health Sciences, reveals that living in a more industrialized area seems to promote the onset of asthma. What is not clear is why children who live so close to each other – and, presumably, are exposed to similar environments – contract asthma at widely different rates.

On New York’s Upper East Side, the asthma rate is less than 10 percent; 20 blocks north in Harlem, it is over 20 percent.

“Here is a situation where kids who literally live within walking distance have two and three times more asthma and are hospitalized for the illness far more frequently,” says Dr. Perzanowski. “What is making these kids more likely to get sick?”

In his NYC Neighborhood Asthma & Allergy Study, researchers visit families who have either an asthmatic or a non-asthmatic seven-year-old child to inquire about the child’s health from birth, home and school locations, current respiratory symptoms, and indoor and outdoor environmental exposures. Dr. Perzanowski is also using the geographic information collected by Dr. Andrew Rundle, associate professor of Epidemiology, to understand the physical and socioeconomic characteristics of both the high- and low-asthma rate neighborhoods where study participants live.

Says Dr. Perzanowski, “By gaining a better understanding of what is going on in the neighborhoods where children live, parents, health professionals, communities, and governments can intervene to mitigate the toll asthma is taking on children."