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Understanding How Environmental Factors Affect Children’s Asthma

In the United States, 6.2 million children are affected by asthma, causing them to miss school, extracurricular activities, and other important events.[1] Environmental factors such as air pollution, mold, and secondhand smoke can worsen common asthma symptoms.[2] Research from the NIEHS/EPA children’s centers has increased understanding of what factors heighten asthma and what can be done to help children maintain a normal quality of life.

University of Iowa Children’s Environmental Airway Disease CenterExit researched how children who live in rural communities are impacted by the agricultural settings surrounding them. There was a notion that rural life had a protective effect on childhood asthma, but this study showed that though the pollutants were different than those in urban settings, organic dusts and particles in rural areas still affected children.[3]

The Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California – BerkeleyExit also looked at the effects of agriculture on children but they specifically looked at childhood organophosphate exposure. They found that exposure lead to increased asthma symptoms and decreased lung function. Another chemical they looked at was sulfur, specifically because it is a low-toxicity pesticide approved for both conventional and organic agriculture use. Poorer respiratory performance was associated with higher sulfur exposure.

Other Centers looked at the effect of traffic-related air pollution, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, among others. The underlying finding across all the centers was that children who live, attend school, or play near major roadways are more susceptible to asthma.

The University of Southern California Children’s Environmental Health CenterExit specifically looked at the risk of asthma in children with no prior history of asthma and the onset of asthma in younger children living near roadways. 

Researchers at the Center for the Study of Childhood Asthma in the Urban EnvironmentExit at Johns Hopkins University used high-efficiency filters in homes with smokers. These filters resulted in 33 fewer days per year that contributed to asthma symptoms.

Research from these Children’s Centers continue to support advancements and increased understanding of how environmental factors affect children’s asthma. By understanding the elements that influence asthma, communities and families are better able to protect and help their children manage this chronic disease.  Learn more about the children’s centers research on asthma and other children’s health topics in the 2017 Children’s Center Impact Report.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics: Asthma. 2017; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htmExit

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma in schools. 2017; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/asthma/Exit

[3] Schwartz D. (1999). Etiology and pathogenesis of airway disease in children and adults from rural communities.

Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(S3), 393-401. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1566226/Exit

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