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Soc Sci Med. 2004 Jan;58(1):75-88.

Health, place and childhood asthma in southwest Alaska.

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Arizona Respiratory Center, Arizona Health Sciences Center, University of Arizona, 501 North Campbell Avenue, P. O. Box 245073, Tucson, AZ 85724-5073, USA.


Social science theories of health and place posit that individuals perceive a relationship between characteristics of the geographic location in which they reside and their health, well-being, and self-identity. A number of ethnographies of health and place have studied how urban and suburban populations impacted by industrial pollution or waste have come to perceive a link between rates of cancer and their unhealthy environment. There has been little study of the applicability of the health and place framework to community perceptions of long-term chronic illness. This paper examines the asthma perceptions of Yup'ik parents of asthmatic children using data from semi-structured ethnographic interviews conducted in five villages and one town of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of southwest Alaska. Informants cited local climatic features, large-scale changes of the last 30 years to the village built landscape, and ongoing conditions of substandard housing and sanitation as etiological factors associated with childhood asthma. Our study suggests the need for further research concerning lay perceptions of one aspect of the epidemilogic transition-the association between chronic illness and place, especially in rural communities undergoing dramatic developmental change.

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