An asthma education program given in school may help urban, low-income children better manage the lung condition, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that an asthma education program offered at inner-city schools in Oakland, California, was able to improve students' symptoms and reduce the number of visits to the emergency room for asthma attacks.

Over three years, nearly 1,000 middle school and high school students took part in the program, dubbed "Kickin' Asthma." The four-session program, led by a trained nurse, taught asthmatic students how to avoid symptom triggers, catch warning signs of an asthma attack and take their medication properly.

Three months after completing the program, the students reported a number of improvements in their symptoms, according to findings published in the Journal of School Health.

On average, they were suffering fewer sleep interruptions because of breathing problems, and fewer days where symptoms kept them from being physically active.

Their rates of visits to the emergency room or doctor's office for asthma symptoms also declined substantially; in one school year, for example, the percentage of students who said they'd gone to the ER or hospital in the past three months fell from 42 percent to 24 percent.

"This study demonstrates how schools can play an important role in the health and safety of children and adolescents coping with asthma," lead researcher Dr. Sheryl Magzamen, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said in a written statement.

"We found that Kickin' Asthma is a good strategy for educating adolescents about their disease and helping them to take more control over it," she said.

It's estimated that nearly 10 percent of U.S. children have asthma, and the problem is particularly acute among urban, minority children.

Based on the current findings, the researchers say, school programs designed specifically for such at-risk students might help address this disparity.