Background: Asthma mortality rates in Chicago are among the highest in the United States, with substantially greater rates in poor and minority populations. How much of the differential can be attributed to differences in prevalence versus severity or access to care has not been determined.
Objective: To examine rates of asthma prevalence, severity, and symptoms and to explore the relationships of these rates to race and socioeconomic status in a random sample of Chicago school children.
Methods: Self-administered survey.
Results: Overall, rates of asthma were higher than previously reported, with 16% of students in the stratified cluster random sample of 3,670 children in the 7th and 8th grades having had asthma. Prevalence rates were significantly higher in schools with >98% African Americans than in other schools, with the highest prevalence rates seen in African American schools in low income neighborhoods. Rates were associated with the percent of African American children in the school and with median income of the school's census tract. Relationships were most consistent with indices of more severe disease.
Conclusions: Asthma prevalence is higher than previously noted, with rates greatest in minority and low income populations. Differences are more striking for measures of severity than for symptoms of wheezing, but are far less than previously reported differences in mortality, suggesting that additional factors, such as differential access to continuous health care, may be affecting high death rates from asthma in Chicago.