Asthma in children may be influenced by socioeconomic factors related to the family environment where the children are in higher-stress situations, according to research conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia. About six percent of children under five years old are diagnosed with the chronic disease, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and until now it was thought that the diagnoses were related to attention and behavioral issues in children. However, this new study suggests that socioeconomic status may also need to be taken into consideration.
There is a biological mechanism behind asthma, as in any other chronic disease, however, “children who suffer from asthma are heavily influenced by parental management” said the researcher responsible for the study, Jen-Hao Chen, who believes that successful management relies on social circumstances. “My research indicated that there is a profound socioeconomic difference in these outcomes, with the poor consequences of asthma concentrated among children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Chen, who is an assistant professor in the MU School of Health Professions.
“Family environment, which is affected by factors including parental stress and positive parenting behaviors, plays a huge role in the effective management of asthma,” the researcher concluded. “Poverty results in great additional strain for parents who are trying to manage an already stressful illness, often with inadequate access to resources. No matter what indicators were used to define poverty, children of lower socioeconomic status consistently performed worse than other children on behavioral development measures, and these differences already were apparent by very critical stages of early development.”
The study “Asthma and child behavioral skills: Does family socioeconomic status matter?,” which was recently published in the Social Science and Medicine journal, was conducted with data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort. It studied 5,750 American children, documenting any changes of behavior during their development.
Chen analyzed the behavioral measures affected by asthma, which included attention levels, social skills, and aggressiveness. He discovered that even though all children with asthma are at risk for difficulties, the consequences of the disease disappeared in cases where there was no poverty and parents had a higher education.
“All children, those who have asthma and those who do not, live in a stratified society,” Chen said. “Many interventions are designed to help manage physical asthmatic symptoms, but rarely do they address the social and behavioral consequences of asthma. To effectively prepare asthmatic children for later successes in life, existing programs also must treat the non-medical consequences of asthma through social, emotional and educational supports for families from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Chen, who received grants from the American Educational Research Association that is supported by the National Science Foundation, believes that informational and educational programs are needed in order to help parents provide asthmatic children with the best health care, as well as support to deal with parental stress and depression, common conditions found in people who struggle with poverty.