Dr Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir Discusses Her Research on Environmental Factors, Exercise, and Respiratory Health

Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS, describes her research on the impact of environmental factors on respiratory health among children.

We know that air pollution exposure can lead to the development of asthma as well as exacerbations of asthma, said Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University Medical Center and incoming director of that program. Lovinsky-Desir's talk was presented at this year's American Thoracic Society (ATS) meeting.


Research shows people of color in the United States suffer the most from particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) exposure. How has this played out in rates of asthma and other pulmonary diseases seen among these patients?

We know that air pollution exposure can lead to the development of asthma, as well as exacerbations of asthma. So, think about it: if you are exposed at high concentrations of air pollution exposure because of where you live—let's say you live right near a major thoroughfare or right near a highway or next to a truck depot and there are diesel trucks passing by on a regular basis—your exposure to particulate pollutants might be much higher. Hence, you may have a higher risk of developing asthma, as well as a higher risk of having symptoms and morbidity associated with asthma.

There's one really nice study that was published within the last year that demonstrated that even historical practices, like redlining that happened in the 1930s, set up the landscape of many urban communities where highways and traffic sources tend to be in the poor communities. Those same poor communities in present day are experiencing [a] higher asthma burden with increased hospitalization rates for asthma. This is really a problem. These are structural problems that influence the health of people today.

Can you discuss your research on how environmental factors in urban communities affect respiratory health?

My particular area of interest, and what I've been focusing my research on right now, is thinking about the combined effects of physical activity and air pollution exposure, particularly in children. We know that when you're exercising, you breathe deeper and you breathe faster and breathe harder overall—potentially inhaling more pollutant particles. For children who live in communities where there's increased air pollution exposure, we know that physical activity in general is good for respiratory health, but this may not necessarily be the case to be super active outdoors, particularly when you're exposed to high air pollution concentrations. This is the area of research that I've been focusing on in the last couple of years.