The Association Between Community Crime and Childhood Asthma Prevalence in Chicago

In Chicago, from 2003 to 2005, child asthma rates were higher in neighborhoods where more crimes occurred.

Black Americans typically suffer more severe consequences of asthma than White Americans. The same holds for Chicago, where low-income and Black residents are more likely to die from asthma than their White counterparts. However, while race and socioeconomic status have strong associations with asthma prevalence, several additional factors may contribute to asthma rates among children.

This article reports on a study that examined the effects of neighborhood crime on child asthma rates. The authors analyzed data from the Chicago Initiative to Raise Asthma Health Equity (CHIRAH). From 2003 to 2005 the CHIRAH study employed a cross-sectional survey to screen for asthma in public and Catholic elementary and middle schools. This study reports the annual number of violent crimes, property crimes and drug violations relative to asthma prevalence. The city’s 277 police beats defined separate neighborhoods. The authors used street addresses and ArcGIS StreetMap U.S. to link students to their respective neighborhoods; the authors categorized crime in each neighborhood as high, moderate, or low; and, assigned each neighborhood to quartiles representing degrees of asthma prevalence. Multilevel logistic regression estimated the effect of crime on differences in asthma rates.

Key Findings:

  • Neighborhoods with the highest asthma rates were 90 percent Black American and experienced almost double the total crimes as neighborhoods with the lowest asthma rates.
  • Violent crime was significantly associated with asthma, even after adjusting for race/ethnicity.

The authors found evidence of a direct link between violent crime and asthma.