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Daily News Archive
From March 29, 2006                                                                                                        

Study Finds Asthma Problem Growing In New England
(Beyond Pesticides, March 29, 2006)
Asthma remains on the rise in New England, especially among low-income adults, a new study conducted by The New England Asthma Regional Council has concluded. The study finds that nearly 15 percent of adults and 14 percent of children living in New England have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives. This represents roughly 2.1 million people - up from 1.7 million three years ago.

According to several criteria, asthma rates in New England are higher than the rest of the country. The lifetime asthma rate for adults nationally, for example, is 13 percent – which is two points lower than New England. Among the individual states in the region, Connecticut has the highest asthma rate, at 15.3 percent.

"It's just extraordinarily frustrating when you see rates going up and up," said Laurie Stillman, executive director of the council. "Even though we don't know what is causing asthma, it's an eminently controllable disease. But it seems we are not doing a good enough job controlling it."

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that, if left untreated, can cause permanent lung damage, disability and even death. In 2003, nearly 30 million people had been diagnosed with asthma in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Among the study's major findings:

  • Asthma in adult women is much higher than in men (12.5 percent vs. 7.1 percent) and is growing significantly.
  • The disease is more common in boys (11.4 percent vs. 7 percent for girls).
  • Hispanic children have a significantly higher rate of asthma than non-Hispanic white children, while African American children have a somewhat higher rate than non-Hispanic whites.
  • Children living with someone who smokes have a 44 percent greater chance of getting asthma.
  • Poor adults and children are much more likely to have asthma, and children in the lowest income bracket have double the rates of asthma compared with those in the highest income bracket.
  • Asthma rates were significantly higher among adults who were obese (13.1 percent vs. 8.7 percent) than for those not overweight or obese.

The findings, while not surprising to those who work in the field, were somewhat sobering.

"I think it's very significant" said Paula Schenck, assistant director of the Center for Indoor Environments and Health at the University of Connecticut Health Center. "As we learn more, improving our environments looks to me like it could really make a difference."

The study also outlined the effects of the disease. In New England, more than 30 percent of adults who said they have asthma reported being limited by the illness, 22 percent said they were in fair or poor overall health, and 17 percent reported frequent mental distress. About 9 percent of adults with asthma reported being unable to work.

Throughout the country, more than six million children have asthma, which is the leading cause of school absenteeism attributed to chronic conditions and the third-leading cause of hospitalizations among children under age 15. Asthma can be a life-threatening disease if not properly controlled through appropriate asthma care management, which relies on physicians’ and nurses’ clinical knowledge and skills, as well as parents’ and children’s daily attention to asthma triggers and medications. Environmental asthma triggers include allergens and pollutants. Allergens can be dust mites, cockroaches, animal allergens, molds, and pollens. Indoor and outdoor pollutants include secondhand smoke, chemicals, pesticides, combustion by-products, smog and fine particles.

To learn about the link between pesticides and asthma, check out Beyond Pesticides’ 15-page color booklet, Asthma, Children and Pesticides: What you should know to protect your family. The booklet examines children's susceptibility to asthma, the differences between the causes of asthma and asthma triggers, specific pesticides linked to asthma, the demographics of asthma, tips for controlling pests linked to asthma without using pesticides and steps you can take to avoid asthma causes and triggers. The brochure is available online or by calling Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450 for hardcopies.