Qualitative Assessments and Mapping Allow Researchers to Identify Asthmatic Triggers

A new study based on qualitative research conducted in West Philadelphia finds that the main triggers for asthma are stress, environmental irritants, and environmental allergens. The team of researchers, which included UPenn PRC advisory board member Frances Barg, UPenn PRC director Karen Glanz, and UPenn PRC project manager Sarah Green, involved qualitative interviews and GIS mapping to categorize a variety of influences that influence asthma events in smaller sub-sections of West Philadelphia, which are primarily low-income and African American. By using a mixed-methods procedure, the researchers were able to more fully understand and define the components of “stress,” including aggravated assault and theft, in the study of asthma.

By combining the techniques of “free-list” interviews (interviews in which participants are asked to list the things that can trigger their asthma) with mapping, researchers could better understand asthma triggers in an urban, mostly minority environment. The combination of these qualitative study methods has a positive implication for the outcomes of community-based research. It allows for a body of researchers and community members to create a network of information that can allow for a better understanding of environmental triggers based on geography. This information can ultimately lead to more effective control of asthma in a variety of communities.

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Keddem S, Barg F, Glanz F, Jackson T, Green S, George M. Mapping the urban asthma experience: Using qualitative GIS to understand contextual factors affecting asthma control. Social Science & Medicine, July 2015, 140:9-17.