in the past, studies of childhood asthma
tried to find out who has higher rates of the
disease: city kids or farm kids.
Graduate student Marc Parsons, funded by
Alberta innovates – Health Solutions, took a
slightly different approach to that question.
He didn’t just ask whether there were
connections between asthma and where a
child lives. He set out to discover which came
first: the asthma, or life on or off the farm.
A biostatistician, Parsons spent months
studying 14 years’ worth of data from the
National Longitudinal Study of Children and
Youth. His conclusion: children who grow up
on farms are about 45 per cent less likely to
develop asthma than those who grow up in
Previous studies looked at much shorter
periods. Although they showed similar
findings about the rate of asthma on farms,
the results didn’t paint a full picture. They
didn’t answer the question: Did a child have
asthma and then move to a farm or city, or
did the child already live on a farm or in a city
and then develop asthma? Parsons’ findings
show growing up on a farm is as important
as living on a farm in reducing the likelihood
of developing asthma.
His work has the potential to influence
asthma management and public policy.
for example, it’s easier to plan awareness
programs knowing that rates of childhood
asthma are higher in cities. He’s also hoping
that physicians will find the data useful for
“it’s good to look at biomarkers and genetics,
but while those are important, it’s also
important to look at the context of where we
live,” Parsons says. He adds it’s important to
be looking at our environment in relation to
— Debby Waldman
convinced that Matthew’s parents,
like many, weren’t following the drug
regime properly. But what was really
happening was a gap in the system:
the Greens were filling Matthew’s
prescriptions at two different places,
but only one of the pharmacies
was linked to a provincewide
database that the doctor relied on for
information. When Matthew’s mother
discovered the gap, the doctor was
given a more complete picture of how
to treat Matthew.
in praise of rural life
Photo: Melanie Defazio
Asthma researcher Dr. Andrew Cave.
Cave’s work aims to ensure that
all areas of the health-care system—
doctors’ offices, emergency rooms
and pharmacies—have the complete
information about pediatric asthma
patients. Privacy is paramount;
patients will be identified by numbers
instead of names, and researchers
will see what doctors prescribe and if
patients fill their prescriptions.
Cave is hoping for at least a 40 per
cent improvement in treatment. That
could mean seven out of 10 children
with asthma will have it well
controlled instead of two or three out
of 10. “That’s a lot of kids who are so
much better,” he says.