Neighbourhoods with low social cohesion and a lack of trust between residents suffer from particularly high levels of asthma, according to new research.
People who feel uncomfortable with their environment tend to hermetically seal themselves into their homes, where they may be exposed to asthma triggers, researchers from Ohio State and Chicago Universities hypothesise.
"If residents feel uncomfortable walking outside or leaving windows open for fresh air, they may be continually exposed to high levels of indoors allergens such as dust mites or cockroaches," Professor Christopher Browning explains.
"This may be particularly bad in poor neighbourhoods where housing is substandard and there are more allergens such as mould that could trigger asthma."
The study of 338 Chicago neighbourhoods also found a lack of fellow feeling between neighbours means derelict buildings may remain in place for longer, generating mould and cockroaches. The scientists suggest that there may also be a lack of parks deemed to be safe in these areas.
Financial disadvantage and the urban environment are known to increase the chances of developing asthma, but even after adjusting for factors like poverty and smoking, the levels of trust were found to have an effect.
The researchers found the "collective efficacy" of a community was a telling marker of asthma risk. This is a measure of the extent to which people in a community trust one another, help each other and feel responsible for one another, Professor Browning explains.
In neighbourhoods where collective efficacy is high, residents had a 15 per cent probability of reporting asthma or breathing problems, compared with 21 per cent in neighbourhoods with low levels of collective efficacy.
Professor Browning says this reveals the importance of investigating the broader social context, as well as individual factors - such as income and health behaviours - when studying asthma.
The paper is published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
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