Background Asthma mortality rates in poor communities of Chicago are among the highest in the country. Possible explanations include increased asthma prevalence, increased severity, and suboptimal health care. Objective To estimate the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related symptoms among inner-city kindergarten children, and to characterize their burden of illness, asthma-related health care access, and pharmacologic treatment. Methods Cross-sectional survey of parents of kindergartners was conducted in 11 randomly selected Chicago elementary schools. A self-administered 16-item questionnaire was given to parents of kindergartners. Parents who reported doctor-diagnosed asthma or at least one of several key asthma-related symptoms were then interviewed with a supplemental questionnaire examining asthma-related health care and medication use. Results Based on data from 638 children [mean age 5.7 (SD = 0.6) years], the prevalence of diagnosed asthma was 10.8%. Sixteen percent of the respondents reported that their child had wheezed in the past year. The prevalence of asthma-related symptoms unassociated with a diagnosis of asthma was 30.1%. The children with diagnosed asthma had evidence of a high burden of illness: over 40% were reported to have had sleep disturbance due to wheezing ≥1 to 2 nights/week and 86.6% reported acute care visits for respiratory symptoms in the past year. Self-reported access to medical care was high. Over 40% of the children with doctor diagnosed asthma were reported to have used a β 2-agonist in the preceding 2 weeks, and 12.2% used an inhaled anti-inflammatory. Conclusions These data suggest that asthma prevalence in school-aged children in inner-city communities may be higher than US estimates. The burden of illness experienced by these children is substantial. Also, a large proportion of children were reported to have respiratory symptoms consistent with asthma, and no asthma diagnosis, suggesting possible undiagnosed asthma. While measures of health care access appear to indicate that the majority of children with asthma experience no identified barriers to health care, there is evidence to suggest undertreatment.