Disparities between white and black kids with asthma in rates of
emergency department visits or hospitalizations have shrunk and
rates of asthma attacks – another sign of poorly managed asthma –
are the same, researchers found.
“In general, this is good news - once differences in asthma
prevalence rates are taken into account, national estimates show
that progress has been made in addressing asthma disparities among
children,” Dr. Lara Akinbami, who led the study, told Reuters Health
in an email.
“But, the flipside is that disparities remain, especially for asthma
deaths, and black children were increasingly likely to have asthma,
and thus disproportionately at risk for the health risks that come
from having asthma,” said Akinbami, a researcher with the National
Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Health disparities are routinely measured to track progress toward
their elimination, and to determine what kinds of interventions are
more likely to improve results, she and her colleagues point out in
the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
A “Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic
Childhood Asthma Disparities” (http://1.usa.gov/1nfnz0J) set out
goals in 2012 and Akinbami said her team wanted to see what the
situation and trends were at that point.
They looked at data gathered by the National Center for Health
Statistics from 2001 to 2010 and found that about 4.4 million white
kids had asthma in 2001, and that number rose slightly to 4.5
million in 2010.
But for black kids, the numbers increased significantly more, from
1.2 million in 2001 to 1.7 million by 2010.
The authors also wanted to assess trends in racial disparities in
deaths and the use of healthcare to see how well or poorly kids with
the disease are being managed.
But, Akinbami noted, the higher – and rising – rates of asthma among
black children mean that some of the racial disparities in
healthcare use and mortality are due solely to the higher percentage
of black children who have asthma.
To get a clearer statistical picture, they decided to look at the
trends in two ways. One, the more common way, is to compare the
entire population of black kids and all the white kids. The other
way is to focus just on children with asthma – who are the only ones
“at risk” for deaths, hospitalizations and other asthma-related
effects and healthcare use.
Looking at rates within whole populations, “We saw that black-white
disparities in healthcare use remained stable (emergency department
visits and hospitalizations remained about 3-4 times higher among
black children in 2010) and that disparities in asthma deaths
increased to about 7 times higher in black children in 2010,”
But in the “at risk”-only analysis, the racial disparities were much
smaller and in some cases shrank from 2001 to 2010. Emergency
department visits and hospitalizations were about twice as high
among black children with asthma, which represents a decrease
between 2001 and 2010. And deaths were about four times higher among
black children compared to white children, a rate that was stable
throughout the decade.
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In the whole-population analysis, disparities between black and
white children in rates of asthma attacks widened, but when just the
at-risk kids were included, there was no disparity in rates of
The authors suggest that examination of the “at-risk" rates may
provide a more specific perspective than traditional
whole-population statistical methods on group differences in the
effectiveness of various interventions.
“There seems to be some encouraging data in this article,” Dr. John
Carl told Reuters Health.
Carl is a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not
involved in the study.
“Although the prevalence rate is increasing in the African American
population, it does not show that the severity of the disease has
demonstrated the same degree of increase, so I think that’s
encouraging,” he said.
“Unfortunately, not much is known about how to prevent asthma from
developing, except to avoid smoking during pregnancy and around
young children,” Akinbami said.
“However, there is a lot of knowledge about how to control symptoms
once a child develops asthma. There are two main strategies, and
both require paying close attention to a child’s symptoms, like
being woken from sleep by coughing and wheezing, or not being able
to play like other children,” she said.
The first strategy is avoiding the things that cause asthma attacks,
including allergens and respiratory infections, ranging from the
common cold to the flu. “The second strategy is using the correct
medication to help the airways stay open to prevent or reverse
wheezing,” Akinbami said.
“It is important to have regular visits with a healthcare provider
who can teach children how to recognize symptoms, help identify the
things that cause attacks and advise how to avoid them, and monitor
which medications should be taken,” she added. “The goal is for a
child with asthma to feel like they don’t have asthma at all.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1rmkaEY The Journal of Allergy and Clinical
Immunology, August 1, 2014.
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