September 7, 2006
Contact: Kaylyn Kendall Dines
Findings of Low Birthweight and Pediatric Asthma Study
Published in September Issue of American Journal of Public Health
NEW BRUNSWICK — The outcomes from a study about the association between low birthweight and asthma in urban environments are published in the September 2006 issue of American Journal of Public Health. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Columbia University School of Social Work.
Dr. Lenna Nepomnyaschy, an associate research scientist at the Columbia University School of Social Work, and Dr. Nancy Reichman, associate professor of Department of Pediatrics of the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, are co-authors of the “Low Birthweight and Asthma Among Young Urban Children” article that describes their study. They conducted the study to assess whether a connection between low birthweight and early childhood asthma can be explained by biological or environmental predictors.
Dr. Reichman and Dr. Nepomnyaschy analyzed and tracked data from a sample of 1,803 children who were born in 20 cities nationwide between 1998 and 2000. By surveying the mothers and using data from a national longitudinal study, the researchers were able to track each child until he or she was age three. Within the sample of children, 19 percent were diagnosed with asthma by age three, a rate that is higher than the national average. According to Dr. Reichman, approximately 10 percent of the children in the sample had low birthweight compared with the national average of seven percent. The researchers define low birthweight as less than 5.5 pounds and very low birthweight as less than 3.3 pounds.
“Many people may think the connection between asthma and low birthweight can be explained by either socio-economic or environmental factors,” said Dr. Reichman. “Very little of the association between low birthweight and childhood asthma at age three can be explained by the demographic, socio-economic, medical, behavioral, and neighborhood characteristics. This is the first study to identify neighborhood housing characteristics as a predictor of asthma for children by age three.”
Outcomes of the study show low birthweight children were twice as likely as normal birthweight children to have an asthma diagnosis by age three. Of the children who were diagnosed with asthma, 34 percent had low birthweight compared with 18 percent of children who were normal birthweight.
Mothers of low birthweight children were more likely than those of normal birthweight children to be non-Hispanic Black, 65 percent compared with 48 percent, and 27 percent were younger than age 20.
The study shows that rates of renter-occupied housing with nearby vacancies were strong predictors of childhood asthma by age three. High rates of renter-occupied housing units may reflect residential instability or poorly maintained housing, both of which are associated with poor health outcomes. Researchers believe associations between neighborhood housing and asthma diagnosis in early childhood need to be explored further.
“Airborne particles originating from dust mites, rodents, pets, pollens, bacteria, and household molds can trigger allergic responses which lead to inflammation of the lungs, restricted airways, and asthma attacks,” said Dr. and Nepomnyaschy.
Children in the study lived in the following cities where the population was more than 200,000 people: Newark; New York; Philadelphia; Oakland; Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Detroit; Corpus Christi, Texas; San Jose, Calif; San Antonio, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; Norfolk, Va.; Boston; Chicago; Milwaukee; Indianapolis, Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Nashville, Tenn.
This study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
UMDNJ is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and a school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a statewide mental health and addiction services network.