Urban Tree Canopy and Asthma, Wheeze, Rhinitis, and Allergic Sensitization to Tree Pollen in a New York City Birth Cohort

Background: Urban landscape elements, particularly trees, have the potential to affect airflow, air quality, and production of aeroallergens. Several large-scale urban tree planting projects have sought to promote respiratory health, yet evidence linking tree cover to human health is limited.

Objectives: We sought to investigate the association of tree canopy cover with subsequent development of childhood asthma, wheeze, rhinitis, and allergic sensitization.

Methods: Birth cohort study data were linked to detailed geographic information systems data characterizing 2001 tree canopy coverage based on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and multispectral imagery within 0.25 km of the prenatal address. A total of 549 Dominican or African-American children born in 1998–2006 had outcome data assessed by validated questionnaire or based on IgE antibody response to specific allergens, including a tree pollen mix.

Results: Tree canopy coverage did not significantly predict outcomes at 5 years of age, but was positively associated with asthma and allergic sensitization at 7 years. Adjusted risk ratios (RRs) per standard deviation of tree canopy coverage were 1.17 for asthma (95% CI: 1.02, 1.33), 1.20 for any specific allergic sensitization (95% CI: 1.05, 1.37), and 1.43 for tree pollen allergic sensitization (95% CI: 1.19, 1.72).

Conclusions: Results did not support the hypothesized protective association of urban tree canopy coverage with asthma or allergy-related outcomes. Tree canopy cover near the prenatal address was associated with higher prevalence of allergic sensitization to tree pollen. Information was not available on sensitization to specific tree species or individual pollen exposures, and results may not be generalizable to other populations or geographic areas.

 

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