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Rate of Asthma in Chicago Children Surpasses State and National Levels

July 31, 2020

High incidence demonstrates need for preventive care

Prevalence of asthma in Chicago’s youth is higher than state and national levels, according to the latest survey of parents released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The survey found that 16 percent of families have a child who had ever been diagnosed with asthma, above the 11 percent rate across Illinois and 12 percent nationwide.

“Many children and families in Chicago are living with asthma and its consequences. The good news is that healthy behaviors and use of appropriate medicines to manage asthma can reduce children’s symptoms and minimize the impact of this common condition,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Having an asthma action plan for every child with asthma is important to manage symptoms,” says Davis. “These are created with input from the child, parents, and the child’s health care provider.” An Asthma Action Plan is an individualized written plan that outlines how patients and parents should manage the child’s asthma. The plan includes directions for prescribed medications and also helps guide families to recognize when symptoms are getting worse and when their child needs attention by a medical professional.

The impact of pediatric asthma in the United States is profound. Nationally, asthma is the third leading cause of preventable hospitalizations for children, and children with asthma miss twice as many school days as other children. Hospitalizations and school absenteeism may also result in lost wages for a parent, which may be particularly challenging for families. A substantial number of parents responding to the survey whose child had ever been diagnosed with asthma also said that they had a child who was in worse health, compared to parents whose children had never been diagnosed with the condition (36% vs. 16%).

In the survey, 24 percent of families whose child had ever been diagnosed with asthma said they had been to an emergency department in the past year due to an attack. Visits to emergency departments or urgent care facilities are imperative when asthma cannot be controlled. Importantly, Asthma Action Plans can be useful for families to maintain daily preventive care and avoid asthma flares.

In the survey, parents with a child with asthma were less likely to take their children to their local park than parents whose children had never been diagnosed with asthma (70% v. 80%). “This may be because parents want to avoid common asthma triggers such as seasonal allergies, air pollution, cold weather and exercise. However, avoiding parks and green space may not be the best choice for children’s well-being,” says Davis. Research results from a Baltimore study showed that children who live closer to a park have fewer asthma symptoms, suggesting that visiting green spaces helps children with healthy respiratory function.

Survey answers are from the second wave of data collection through the Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. (2018-19) that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 2,982 adults, including 740 parents, December 2018 through May 2019. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas. Compared to other questions on the survey asking parents to identify their top 10 social and health problems for Chicago’s children, responses described above were to questions asking parents whether their children had asthma and if they ever had to go to the hospital or urgent care center within the past year for asthma. Parents were also asked questions about their family and family’s health.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health.

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.