Asthma Disparities: A Disproportionate Burden

By Alisa Smith

What disease do you think affects one in every five U.S. households, costs the U.S. $50 billion annually in medical expenses, accounts for 10.5 million missed school days every year, causes black children to be hospitalized at twice the rate of white children and to die at four times the rate of white children?

You’re probably thinking: whatever it is, let’s figure out a vaccine quickly.

It is asthma. Anyone can have asthma, but it impacts some more severely than others. Significant disparities, or differences, in asthma exist in racial and ethnic groups. Children from minority groups and children in low-income families are at greater risk for having the disease and once they have it, they are at greater risk of having it more severely.

While we don’t yet have a vaccine or know how to prevent someone from getting asthma, we do have a clear understanding of how to control it. It’s a balancing act: controlling exposure to the things indoors and outdoors that trigger asthma attacks and getting the right medicine and knowing how to take it.

Building awareness is one piece of the nation’s asthma control puzzle. EPA is working hard on many levels to help individuals and communities gain control of asthma. Our website has evidence-based resources that assist kidsparents, caregivers, older adults, child care programs, schools, healthcare providers, health insurers, and community groups.  Each year, over one million people visit our companion website to download easy to read information in English and Spanish.

Another piece of the asthma control puzzle focuses on closing the gap in disparities. Beginning over ten years ago, EPA saw effective work was being done in communities across the country to improve outcomes for kids most severely impacted by asthma. To help health practitioners and asthma programs share their best practices and top questions with one another, EPA launched This site contains the System for Delivering High-Quality Asthma Care and hundreds of effective print and multimedia resources from programs across the country. Each year EPA honors exceptional health plans, health care providers and communities in action with the National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management as a way to celebrate the important contribution these programs are making to close the gap in asthma disparities. To hear from the 2012 Award winners about their best-in-class programs, register for EPA’s live webinar on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, from 1–2 p.m. EDT.

About the author: Alisa Smith, Ph.D., is Acting Director of the Center for Asthma and Schools in the Indoor Environments Division at the U.S. EPA.