Background: Children in urban public housing are at high risk for asthma, given elevated environmental and social exposures and suboptimal medical care. For a multifactorial disease like asthma, design of intervention studies can be influenced by the relative prevalence of key risk factors. To better understand risk factors for asthma morbidity in the context of an environmental intervention study, we conducted a detailed baseline evaluation of 78 children (aged 4-17 years) from three public housing developments in Boston.
Methods: Asthmatic children and their caregivers were recruited between April 2002 and January 2003. We conducted intake interviews that captured a detailed family and medical history, including questions regarding asthma symptom severity, access to health care, medication usage, and psychological stress. Quality of life was evaluated for both the child and caregiver with an asthma-specific scale. Pulmonary function was measured with a portable spirometer, and allergy testing for common indoor and outdoor allergens was conducted with skin testing using the prick puncture method. Exploratory linear and logistic regression models evaluating predictors of respiratory symptoms, quality of life, and pulmonary function were conducted using SAS.
Results: We found high rates of obesity (56%) and allergies to indoor contaminants such as cockroaches (59%) and dust mites (59%). Only 36% of children with persistent asthma reported being prescribed any daily controller medication, and most did not have an asthma action plan or a peak flow meter. One-time lung function measures were poorly correlated with respiratory symptoms or quality of life, which were significantly correlated with each other. In multivariate regression models, household size, body mass index, and environmental tobacco smoke exposure were positively associated with respiratory symptom severity (p < 0.10). Symptom severity was negatively associated with asthma-related quality of life for the child and the caregiver, with caregiver (but not child) quality of life significantly influenced by caregiver stress and whether the child was in the intensive care unit at birth.
Conclusion: Given the elevated prevalence of multiple risk factors, coordinated improvements in the social environment, the built environment, and in medical management would likely yield the greatest health benefits in this high-risk population.