EDITORIAL: Asthma report highlights health inequity

A lot of people in Connecticut live with asthma, and it’s a common chronic condition nationwide. A recent report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America shows that nationwide the condition is significantly more common in Black Americans and Puerto Ricans. A recent Record-Journal story found that locally there are disparities as well.

Cris Villalonga-Vivoni, the RJ’s health equity reporter, is writing a series about the prevalence of asthma and disparities in its diagnosis and treatment. She welcomes individuals to share their experiences at myrecordjournal.com/Voices. The first installment offers a statistical foundation that shows the extent and impact of asthma and where racial disparities are. Here are the basics:

Black Americans are almost twice as likely to have asthma than white Americans, according to a 2020 report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. They are five times more likely to visit the emergency room and three times more likely to die from the condition. Puerto Ricans have the highest rates of asthma compared to any racial or ethnic group, says the report.

In Connecticut, almost 450,000 residents have asthma, according to the state Department of Public Health. Black and Latino residents have the highest rate, at 20%, compared to 14% for white residents. Also, according to DPH, 13% of Connecticut students reported having asthma. About 21% of students reported having asthma in Meriden public schools, compared to 11% in Wallingford and Cheshire, and 13% in Southington.

Villalonga-Vivoni’s interview with Aracelis Santos Torres, of Meriden, illustrates the individual toll. “Whenever we went outside for walks at school, I would have to take [an asthma pump] with me. At recess, I couldn’t play tag. I would just be on the swings while my friends would play in the field. I just had to be much more careful,” Santos Torres said.

“Today, the world is lacking justice in communities that are suffering from environmental racism,” Santos Torres wrote in a school essay. “From polluted air and water to poverty, these people are going through issues that are not discussed enough.”

The external environment can be a big factor, making housing and schools and the air quality in and around those structures important, according to Dr. Sanaz Eftekhari, vice president of corporate affairs and research for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, who was interviewed by Villalonga-Vivoni.

The Mayo Clinic cites a number of potential asthma triggers, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical products, dust, mold, pollen and pets. According to the American Lung Association of Connecticut, air pollution plays a significant role in the broad impact of asthma.

Villalonga-Vivoni looked at some local measures being taken towards better outcomes. She found that while data show the asthma rate in Meriden schools is disproportionately high, even when compared to similar districts, the rate has been decreasing over the past five years. Meriden’s associate health director, Stephanie Denya, said COVID helped increase awareness of asthma and “the importance of following up with health care providers, taking medications as prescribed and avoiding triggers.”

Wallingford participates in a state-sponsored effort called Putting on AIRS Asthma Education Program and the town’s public health nurse visits homes to help identify and address potential asthma triggers.

Awareness of a problem is often the first step toward finding solutions. With this information about asthma and inequity coming from government and health agency reports, along with health equity reporting, that step is well underway. Targeted outreach programs like Putting on AIRS brings in a strategy to educate and support those afflicted. Armed with more research and information, health policy leaders may be able to craft more far-reaching solutions.

With so many people affected by asthma, this focus is required. Making sure that all demographics benefit from asthma-related remediation will be key to making the biggest impact.


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