Asthma typically begins in childhood and lasts throughout life. It is the leading cause of absenteeism from school and accounts for more than 30% of Canadian health care billings for children. Asthma is the leading cause of hospital admissions in both children and the general Canadian population. This high prevalence, combined with significant asthma-related morbidity, leads to a heavy economic and human burden of asthma in Canada and worldwide.
The unrelenting increase in asthma in children over the last three decades suggests a role for new or changing environmental exposures, and compels research into the development of these conditions as a public health priority. Many types of environmental exposures have been linked to the severity of childhood asthma, but we are just beginning to unravel how environmental exposures contribute to the developmental origins of asthma and related disorders.
The aim of this project is to understand the environmental, epigenetic, and genetic factors that cause asthma in children. This project will focus on examining exposures where the evidence of beneficial or harmful effect is strong and will focus on environmental factors that can be modified through changes in policy and intervention. Samples and data from a large Canadian study, the CHILD study, will be used to determine effects of 4 carefully-chosen environmental factors predicted to be related to asthma in children. These include traffic pollution and the amount of green/blue space in neighborhoods, types of bacteria living in our intestines, stress families experience during pregnancy and in the early life of a baby, and breastfeeding.
Ultimately, by informing policy related to urban form (community and city design) or deliberate therapeutic intervention, the goal of this project is to gain a new understanding and to create better tools which predict who will get asthma and find ways to prevent asthma from developing in the first place.