Rationale — Childhood asthma has shown variable associations with children's physical activity. Neighborhood walkability captures community features that promote walking and is protective against some chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes.
Objectives — We evaluated associations between home neighborhood walkability and incident and ongoing childhood asthma.
Method — This population-based cohort study used prospectively collected administrative healthcare data for the province of Ontario housed at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. We followed an administrative data cohort of 326,383 Toronto children born between 1997 and 2003 until ages 8-15 years. Home neighborhood walkability quintile was measured using a validated Walkability Index with four dimensions: population density, dwelling density, access to retail and services, and street connectivity. Incident asthma was defined by time of entry into the validated Ontario Asthma Surveillance Information System (OASIS) database, which requires two outpatient visits for asthma within two consecutive years or any hospitalization for asthma, and follows children with asthma longitudinally starting at any age. Associations between walkability and incident asthma were examined using Cox proportional hazards models. Associations between ongoing asthma and walkability in each year of life were examined using generalized linear mixed models.
Results — Twenty-one percent of children (n = 69,628) developed incident asthma and were followed longitudinally in the OASIS asthma database. Low birth home neighborhood walkability was associated with an increased incidence of asthma (HR 1.11, 95% CI, 1.08-1.14). Among children with asthma, low walkability in a given year of a child's life was associated with greater odds of ongoing asthma in the same year (OR 1.12, 95% CI, 1.09-1.14).
Conclusions — Children living in neighborhoods with low walkability were at increased risk of incident and ongoing asthma. Neighborhood walkability improvement, for example by adding pedestrian paths to improve street connectivity, offers potential strategies to contribute to primary asthma prevention.