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Wayne State University to study effects of risky family environments on childhood asthma

DETROIT -- According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is the third ranking cause of hospitalization of children younger than 15 in the United States. It is the leading cause of school absences from a chronic illness in 5- to 17-year-olds, accounting for an annual loss of more than 14 million school days per year. A Wayne State University researcher is now investigating the impact of risky family environments on asthma morbidity in children.

The five-year, $3 million grant, "Risky Family Environments and Childhood Asthma," funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, will be led by Richard Slatcher, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in Wayne State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and resident of Beverly Hills, Mich.

The project will study 180 children between the ages of 10 and 15 in Detroit, using an innovative home-based naturalistic assessment tool called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR). The EAR will measure whether identified risky family behaviors are associated with greater asthma morbidity -- such as symptom severity, emergency room visits and pulmonary function -- in three waves of data collection over two years. In addition, the research will try to determine if asthma morbidity increases because of avoidant coping behaviors and poor management of asthma treatment, such as noncompliance with treatment plans or poor asthma management behaviors.

According to Slatcher, little is known about how risky family environments -- those characterized by conflict, neglect, and lack of emotional warmth and support -- affect health. "A key limitation of previous research is that our knowledge of family life of children with asthma has been based entirely on self-reports and interviews of family members," said Slatcher. "It is well known that those traditional types of assessment tools can give biased -- even inaccurate -- pictures of families. In order to develop clinical interventions and treatments that really work to combat asthma, it is essential that we get a clear view of the family risk factors. The EAR gives us a 'fly-on-the-wall' perspective of real families going about their daily lives, one that we believe is a big methodological step in the right direction."

This project will foster future "bench to bedside" translation of its key findings into novel interventions to reduce asthma in children. "It also will allow physicians to include family interventions based on family assessments, which ultimately will improve adherence to treatment plans as well as avoidance of asthma triggers that can lead to severe asthma attacks or even death," said Slatcher.

"This is an important study for children in Detroit, an area that has troubling high incidences of asthma morbidity and mortality," said Hilary Ratner, Ph.D., vice president for research and interim dean of the Graduate School at Wayne State University. "There is an urgent need to address this issue, and Dr. Slatcher's work aims to have a great impact on children who otherwise are helpless in getting the appropriate treatment plan and parent care they need to prevent or treat their asthma."

Contact: Julie O'Connor
Wayne State University - Office of the Vice President for Research

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