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Children with asthma in cities should live by parks

Children with asthma who live in cities tend to experience fewer symptoms if they live near a park, a study revealed.

Researchers looked at inner-city children who have severe asthma and compared the number of days they experienced symptoms to their proximity to parks. 

The results showed that children were more likely another symptomatic day if they live 305 meters away from a park or green space than those living right by one

Children in Baltimore, Maryland, were studied because the city has green spaces but similar levels of pollution as other cities such as New York City and Los Angeles.

Experts recommend children to live by parks to improve their health because it encourages them to go outside and the air in that area is less likely to be polluted.

Researchers studied 196 children from the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland, to see how severe their symptoms were based on where they lived. The children tended to have more symptoms if they lived farther away from a park or green space (file photo)

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Medicine looked at the correlation between children’s asthma symptoms with their proximity to parks. 

They interviewed the parents of 196 children, aged three to 12, all of whom had either visited accident and emergency at least twice or been hospitalized for their asthma over the past year.

The children’s symptoms were studied for two weeks and compared to how far away they lived from a park or green space.

Cities in the United States with the highest levels of air pollution 

More than 125 million Americans live in areas with an unhealthy quality of air, the American Lung Association reported. 

Polluted air can cause harmful health outcomes including asthma and lung cancer. 

The American Lung Association’s report looked at cities air quality in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

The two key areas of pollution they looked at were particles and ozone.

Particles are created from dust kicked up by drought or other dry climates. 

Ozone pollution comes from the smog and emission of damaging chemicals in items such as cars.

Below are the top ten polluted cities in the United States:

1. Visalia, California

2. Bakersfield, California

3. Fresno. California

4. San Francisco, California

5. Los Angeles, California

6. Modesto, California

7. El Centro, California

8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

9. Cleveland, Ohio

10. San Luis Obispo, California 

Kelli DePriest, a public health nurse and primary researcher for the study, said: ‘Living in a city environment increases the risk of childhood asthma, and factors associated with city living -such as air pollution- are also known to contribute to high rates of poorly controlled asthma.’

The group of children studied lived in Baltimore, Maryland.

They chose this location because its population is 620,000 with levels of pollution similar to New York City and Los Angeles, but slightly lower than that of London and Milan.   

The results suggest that living closer to a park can benefit children with asthma, especially older children who are more likely to go to the park on their own.

‘This group of children are predominantly African American, Medicaid insured and their families are from a lower socioeconomic status, which means they represent a population at high risk for asthma-related mortality,’ DePriest said.  

On average, children lived about 250 meters from the nearest park while others lived as far as 1km away. 

The research revealed that children had one extra day of asthma symptoms for every 305 meters between their home and the park.

For example, a child who lives next to a park had an average of five symptomatic days and a child living 305 meters from the park had six symptomatic days.

Older children who lived next to the park had an average of five symptomatic days, whereas a child living 152 meters from the park had six symptomatic days.

‘The effect looks strongest for children aged six years and older,’ DePriest said. ‘This might be because they have more freedom to choose where they want to go compared to younger children.’ 

She said these results are important because they provide further support for the benefits of city parks, and they suggest that the right building policies can improve children’s health.  

DePriest plans to expand on her research by analyzing relationships among varying forms of green spaces, including parks but also backyards and gardens, and how this relates to children’s asthma symptoms.