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Member Research and Reports

Northwestern: Strong Family Relationships May Help with Asthma Outcomes for Children Living in Dangerous Neighborhoods

Positive family relationships might help youth to maintain good asthma management behaviors even in the face of difficult neighborhood conditions, according to a new Northwestern University study.

For children with asthma, neighborhood environmental conditions — the role of allergens and pollutants, for example — have long been known to play an important role, but less is known about how social conditions in the neighborhood might affect children’s asthma.

In the study, researchers sought to test whether there are social factors that can buffer children from the negative effects of difficult neighborhood conditions, focusing on one particular factor they thought would be important in the lives of children — whether they had positive and supportive family relationships.

“We found significant interactions between neighborhood conditions and family relationship quality predicting clinical asthma outcomes,” said Dr. Edith Chen, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “When children lived in neighborhoods that were high in danger and disorder, the better their family relationships, the fewer symptoms and activity limitations they had, and the better their pulmonary function.”

In contrast, Dr. Chen said, when children lived in neighborhoods that were lower in danger and disorder, their symptoms, activity limitations and pulmonary function were generally good, and the nature of their family relationships didn’t really matter.

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