More restaurants, less asthma?

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • June 08, 2009 @ 3:15 PM

Chicago's most vibrant neighborhoods -- those with lots of restaurants, entertainment and ethnic diversity -- have lower asthma rates of childhood asthma than areas lacking those amenities, according to a new study published by four Chicago doctors.

The study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, tracked about 50,000 children over two years. It found that children in neighborhoods that had a stable population - one that rarely moved homes - had higher incidences of asthma than in areas with a more mobile population.

"Previous studies showed that neighborhoods right next to each other with similar racial makeup had very different asthma rates; we wanted to see what else was going on in each neighborhood to cause such a disparity," says lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and a researcher at Children's Memorial Hospital.

She says one reason for the disparity may be that homes in so-called stable neighborhoods are not cleaned as often or thoroughly, causing a rise in allergens, like dust mites.

Another key result was proof that neighborhoods with more "economic potential" had lower levels of childhood asthma. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods on the city's West and South sides had higher rates than downtown and the North Side.

"It is still quite segregated," Gupta says her research shows. "A lot of communities could benefit from improved resources in their communities."

In some cases, the disparity differed by 40 percent.

"The variability, it's just wrong," Gupta says.

Yet, she says, the research shows there is a fair distribution of medical resources throughout the city. What is unknown is how much access residents have to these facilities, she says. Her research also shows overcrowding in those neighborhoods may be a contributing factor.

Asthma affects more than 9 million children in the United States. A number of organizations are tackling childhood asthma in Chicago, which has a mortality rate more than twice the national average.

Gupta and her co-authors, which include practitioners and professors from Children's, researchers in Washington and Hines, Ill, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Cook County Department of Medicine, are planning to learn more about their research by going into the most affected neighborhoods to ask residents more questions.

She is also writing a paper to weigh the effect of violence on childhood asthma.

The paper concludes that a better understanding of social and environmental factors that can protect against asthma can result in a better allocation of public health resources.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.