Too few parks? Here's how green spaces can help city kids

Parks could improve asthma symptoms in children, according to new research.
Parks could improve asthma symptoms in children, according to new research.

Living near a park can help reduce asthma symptoms among children who live in cities, researchers say.

The new study included 196 inner-city children in Baltimore, aged three to 12 years, with persistent asthma. Some lived close to a park or other green space, while others were more than 1km away from one.

The farther the children lived from a park, the more asthma symptoms they had over a two-week period, the study found. For every 1 000 feet between their home and a park, children had symptoms for one extra day.

High rates of poorly controlled asthma

Kids who lived next to a park averaged five days with symptoms over two weeks. A child who lived 1 000 feet from the park averaged six days with symptoms, according to the study scheduled to be presented at a European Respiratory Society meeting in Milan, Italy. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Living in a city environment increases the risk of childhood asthma, and factors associated with city-living – such as air pollution – are also known to contribute to high rates of poorly controlled asthma," study author Kelli DePriest said in a society news release.

Other studies have suggested that children with asthma benefit from exercise, and the presence of green spaces promotes physical activity and helps lower pollution, she said.

The effect appears greatest for kids who are six years and older. DePriest said that's probably because they are freer to roam than younger kids.

The results underscore the benefits of city parks, she said, and suggest that the right building policies can benefit children's health.

A more holistic understanding

The study findings "will also help health care providers to take a more holistic view of their patients by understanding how access to green space might affect health," she concluded.

DePriest is a public health nurse who did the study as part of a doctoral programme at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Medicine and the University of Maryland.

Managing asthma

Unfortunately due to safety issues, it's not always possible to benefit from parks, especially within the South African context. Here are other ways to help manage asthma symptoms in children:

  • Treat all aggregating factors such as hay fever, sinusitis, bronchitis and gastro-oesophageal reflux.
  • Reduce exposure to all possible triggers such as viral infections, flu, allergens, active and passive smoking, excluding exercise.
  • Educate the patient: The patient should be able to recognise the warning signs of an asthma attack in time, should adhere to the prescribed medication, should know how to use the inhalers correctly and know how to avoid triggers. The asthma patient must have an action plan ready in case of an emergency. 
  • Have your child thoroughly evaluated by your doctor at least once every four months.

Image credit: iStock 

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