AUSTIN (KXAN) – A new study led by a Dell Medical School researcher found that children who participated in a program that allowed them to move into neighborhoods with lower levels of poverty and better access to public resources, like schools and public parks, saw their asthma symptoms markedly improve. 

In the US, Black and Hispanic children are much more likely than white children to have severe asthma episodes.

Hispanic children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, per the HHS. Black children are up to three times more likely than white children to have asthma and Black children with asthma are twice as likely to go to the emergency room with asthma-related health concerns than white kids. 

“We have sort of recognized…these really significant disparities in asthma for many decades, “  said Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, Professor of Pediatrics & Population Health Dell Medical School, who led the study. “And despite the fact that we have made tremendous progress in terms of medications [to treat asthma], we have not made a dent in these disparities.” 

Matsui said this research, published Tuesday in JAMA, confirmed the theory that a large factor fueling these racial disparities is where these children are living. 

The study team monitored 123 children, aged 5 to 17, who lived in low-income areas in Baltimore, Maryland, and enrolled in a housing mobility program that moved them to areas with lower poverty rates and more green space, Matsui said. 

The researchers found that after the move, children enrolled in the study saw a significant improvement in how frequently they had asthma symptoms. Further, the number of times these children experienced a severe asthma attack in a year reduced by about 50%. 

“I think we’re just starting to understand that the root of these disparities really lies in the history related to structural racism, housing discrimination, and so on and so forth,” Matsui said.  “That has led to concentrating people of color and neighborhoods that are highly disadvantaged, have poorly built environments, unhealthy housing and more likely to have air pollution.”

“When we start to look at the problem through that lens, then I think we’re going to start to make some headway in terms of shrinking these disparities,” she continued. 

Matsui said this study is the first of its kind to follow a group of kids and see how housing played a role in their asthma symptoms. While the researchers know that housing is definitively a factor in these racial disparities, Matsui said there needs to be more research to help understand just how much it contributes and what other factors might also play a role. 

While the study took place in Baltimore and not Central Texas, the same patterns exist here, Matsui said. 

“Eastern Travis County has higher rates of poverty. That is the area of Travis County where there have been historical forces that have concentrated people of color in those neighborhoods. And those are the same neighborhoods that have the highest burden of asthma-related emergency department visits,” she said.  

Matsui said if the children in this are moved to areas with lower poverty rates, “the study that we’re talking about now suggests that we would have a major impact on reducing the burden of asthma emergency department visits among the kids who live in eastern Travis County.”