Children’s respiratory health has been linked to many factors, including air pollution. The impacts of urban land-use on health are not fully understood, although these relationships are of key importance given the growing populations living in urban environments.
We investigated whether the degree of urban land-use near a family’s residence is associated with severity of respiratory symptoms like wheeze among infants.
Wheeze occurrence was recorded for the first year of life for 680 infants in Connecticut for 1996–1998 from a cohort at risk for asthma development. Land-use categories were obtained from the National Land Cover Database. The fraction of urban land-use near each subject’s home was related to severity of wheeze symptoms using ordered logistic regression, adjusting for individual-level data including smoking in the household, race, gender, and socio-economic status. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure was estimated using integrated traffic exposure modeling. Different levels of urban land-use intensity were included in separate models to explore intensity-response relationships. A buffer distance was selected based on the log-likelihood value of models with buffers of 100–2000 m by 10 m increments.
A 10% increase in urban land-use within the selected 1540 m buffer of each infant’s residence was associated with 1.09-fold increased risk of wheeze severity (95% confidence interval, 1.02–1.16). Results were robust to alternate buffer sizes. When NO2, representing traffic pollution, was added to the model, results for urban land-use were no longer statistically significant, but had similar central estimates. Higher urban intensity showed higher risk of prevalence and severity of wheeze symptoms.
Urban land-use was associated with severity of wheeze symptoms in infants. Findings indicate that health effect estimates for urbanicity incorporate some effects of traffic-related emissions, but also involve other factors. These may include differences in housing characteristics or baseline healthcare status.