While study findings showed worse health and poorer quality of life among people living in lower-income areas, they also showed poorer lung function among those living in suburbs, where people tended to own newer homes in less densely populated neighborhoods.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, is published in the January issue of the European Respiratory Journal.
The analysis did not pinpoint exposures that might be linked to these population effects, but most researchers believe water-damaged housing stock, proximity to high traffic flow, industrial pollution, and social environmental stress are key contributors to health problems in poorer neighborhoods. The study raises the possibility that more frequent household pet ownership may be one factor in lower lung function in suburban-related health exposures, although larger backyards with more allergenic plants could be a contributor.
"Our research could be subtitled 'No Man is an Island,'" said Paul Blanc, MD, UCSF professor of occupational and environmental medicine and lead author of the study. "The study findings underscore that asthma is a complex problem that does not simply affect people in isolation."
"Even if individual risk factors such as poor access to medical care can be overcome, different communities have different asthma patterns, and strategies for prevention and treatment must take this into account," he said.
Blanc cites the need for studies to nail down the community-wide physical and social environmental factors that contribute to asthma and poorer respiratory health.