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Local Doctor: Violence Can Trigger Asthma In Children

CHICAGO (CBS) - Asthma rates in this country and in Chicago are on the rise. CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist introduces us to a local doctor who set out to understand what really contributes to the high number of children with asthma. Her new research finds a surprising environmental factor.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta is helping students at Uplift Community High School manage their asthma.

"It's one of the number one causes for kids to miss school, to be hospitalized, to be stigmatized, and it just shouldn't happen," she said.

Dr. Gupta studied 50,000 kids across Chicago, looking at where they lived and whether they had asthma. She then compared those neighborhood asthma rates to Chicago police crime report data and found a surprising connection.

"Violent crimes trumped race, it trumped economics. It really was the strongest factor we found so far that impacted asthma," Dr. Gupta said.

She also found 22 percent of African-American kids have asthma, compared to just 12 percent of white kids.

But one thing they all had in common: a general lack of knowledge about what triggers their disease.

Raising awareness is the goal of a unique after school program at Uplift.

So far, the students have learned valuable lessons, by taking pictures within their community of what they think triggers their asthma, including the threat of violence.

Terri King is a tenth grader at Uplift. When showing the photos she took, she said, "This is a police car outside the train station right where I get off the train. Sometimes I feel like, what if they're there because something bad happened?"

Mariah Foster is in 11th grade. She says perfume, cigarette smoke and exhaust from buses causes her asthma to act up, but now she's also more aware of not feeling safe in her neighborhood.

"There's a lot of violence that happens around my house, and that affects me as well," said Foster.

Dr. Gupta said she's hoping to take this after school program and put it into a number of other neighborhoods in Chicago.

This way they can get a better understanding of the differences that exist from neighborhood to neighborhood in triggers for asthma. So each neighborhood would end up with an individualized plan.

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