In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Research helps document children’s susceptibility to asthma

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

Children’s health—primarily their susceptibility to asthma—was the subject of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation sponsored by the U-M Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Public Health and Social Work; the College of Pharmacy; and the U-M Health System.

School of Public Health Dean Noreen Clark gave the keynote address in which she highlighted the seriousness of the disease. Clark, an award-winning researcher considered a leader in the field of asthma research, is working on a research project in Detroit that is examining the prevalence of asthma among school children in urban environments, and testing a program designed to enable children, their families, and school personnel to manage the disease.

“Asthma affects one in 20 Americans, but it is especially prevalent in communities of color,” said Clark, who is principal investigator of Partnership to Control Asthma in Schools, a research project done in collaboration with the Medical Center, American Lung Association, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Community Health, Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Board of Education, among others.

The study’s co-investigator Christine Joseph, a School of Public Health graduate and a research epidemiologist with the Henry Ford Health Sciences Center, presented the results of the first phase of the study that focused on the prevalence of asthma in two Detroit elementary schools. The study showed that 17.4 percent of the children had a diagnosis of asthma in those schools, while 14.3 percent of the children fulfilled the criteria for undiagnosed asthma.

The numbers are alarming, said Joseph, who expected the rates to hover around the national average of 5 percent. The poll was conducted a second time, involving 14 schools, but the numbers were largely the same: 16 percent of school children were already diagnosed with asthma, while 12 percent met the criteria for having asthma.

Other national studies have shown that the prevalence of asthma is on the rise. From 1979 to 1989, asthma increased 60 percent in the United States. Meanwhile, national rates of asthma increased 31 percent in 1980–87.

The disease cannot be cured, Clark said, but it can be controlled through effective patient self-management, education of teachers and physicians, and through other outreach efforts, such as environmental assessments, discussion of school policies and community/parent awareness. The second phase of the study will address those and other intervention issues.