Asthma affects nearly 26 million Americans, including 7 million children. While advancements in treatment and interventions have improved health outcomes for many suffering from this respiratory disease, that progress has not yet reached everyone. Poor and minority children bear the greatest burden of the disease, suffering from asthma at higher rates, experiencing greater exposure to environmental triggers and receiving less access to quality care.

Children play in Washington. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Asthma affects 16 percent of non-Hispanic black children, 10.7 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children, and 7.9 percent of Hispanic children (16.5 percent among Puerto Rican children), compared with 8.2 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 6.8 percent of Asian children.

Minority children with asthma are also less likely to receive regular care and recommended treatment, and more likely to be hospitalized for their condition. For example, non-Hispanic black children are twice as likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die because of asthma than non-Hispanic white children.

In many instances, the burden of disease among minority children is worsened by social and environmental factors relating to where children live, learn and play — such as environmental exposures to tobacco smoke, air pollution, mold or other allergens and pollutants and lack of family resources for asthma management at home. 

While we do not yet have interventions that prevent the onset of asthma, we know that there are evidence-based measures that can reduce asthma mortality and improve the quality of life for those living with the disease.  The Action Plan seeks to reduce barriers to comprehensive care, improve intervention strategies and strengthen partnerships among federal programs to better reach communities with racial and ethnic asthma disparities.

In doing so, the Action Plan builds on major federal initiatives to reduce health disparities, promote health equity and expand access to health care — most notably the Affordable Care Act and the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

The Affordable Care Act represents one of the most significant efforts in our nation’s history to increase access to affordable, high-quality care — ensuring, for example, that children cannot be denied health insurance because of preexisting conditions such as asthma; and investing in community health centers, which provide care to vulnerable and underserved communities.  In turn, the HHS Disparities Action Plan provides a coordinated road map to realizing a nation free of disparities in health and health care.

Today, as agencies across the government join together in launching a comprehensive effort to address racial and ethnic disparities in asthma care, we can celebrate another step forward in fulfilling our vision of a nation where everyone has a chance to live a healthy life.  Learn more about the Asthma Disparities Action Plan.

J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE is the deputy assistant secretary for minority health (acting) in the Office of Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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