Neighborhoods Contribute to Racial Disparities in Asthma Rates

A working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Is It Who You Are or Where You Live? Residential Segregation and Racial Gaps in Childhood Asthma, indicates that residential neighborhoods contribute to racial disparities in asthma rates among children.

While babies with low birth weight (LBW) of any race are more likely than babies with normal birth weight to later be diagnosed with asthma, African America babies with LBW have a higher likelihood of an asthma diagnosis than other LBW babies. When the authors looked only at children living in ZIP codes where more than one-quarter of the children were black, however, LBW babies were still more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than non-LBW babies, but the racial disparities in asthma rates disappeared. The authors, Diane Alexander and Janet Currie, argue that their findings show the important role of neighborhoods in racial health disparities.

The authors based their study on birth and hospital records in New Jersey. In addition to finding that the relationship between LBW and asthma was similar for all children in high-percentage-black ZIP codes regardless of race, they also found that the impact of LBW on asthma was twice as high in high-percentage-black ZIP codes as in low-percentage-black ZIP codes. Both of these findings indicate that neighborhoods matter with regard to asthma.

The authors discussed possible explanations for their findings. High-percentage-black ZIP codes appeared to have higher pollution levels. Air monitoring stations within two miles of these ZIP codes had higher pollution levels than stations further than two miles from the ZIP codes. Many of the state’s top 25 pollution emitters are located in or near high-percentage-black ZIP codes. Black neighborhoods are also more likely to be adjacent to major highways and in older, poorer cities. These neighborhoods also tend to have an older housing stock, which may have problems like mold that can trigger asthma.

Is It Who You Are or Where You Live? Residential Segregation and Racial Gaps in Childhood Asthma is available at: