Of all Americans, people who live in New England are the most likely to suffer from asthma, according to a new study. An estimated 1 million New England adults are affected by the illness. The report finds not only is the number of asthma suffers in this region growing, but a great majority of these individuals lack the understanding necessary to properly manage their disease.
The report, released last month by the New England Asthma Region Council (ARC), found that the asthma rates among adults in New England is 9.7 percent—significantly higher than rates in the rest of the country. ARC’s report said nearly two-thirds of adults and children who have the chronic respiratory illness were considered to have a “not well controlled” or “very poorly controlled” disease. Furthermore, as many as 40 percent of working adults reported that they believed that their asthma was either "initiated or exacerbated by their work."
The ARC report confirmed earlier findings that lower socioeconomic status is directly associated with higher asthma prevalence and more severe symptoms, which include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain. Meanwhile, obesity and smoking—or exposure to smokers in the home—were determined to also be important factors.
Findings were based on adult and child results from the standard Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)— a state-based, random telephone survey. Since 2001, the BRFSS survey has found that New England has more asthma sufferers than the other nine U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regions.
New England women had higher asthma rates than men, while younger adults, individuals with lower income and education, the obese, and smokers were among the high-risk populations.
The ARC report recommended that health care providers be current on the updated national guidelines for asthma assessment and care, including written asthma management plans for patients. The council also called for more education on the proper use of medications, assessing and mitigating asthma triggers, monitoring symptoms, and minimizing allergens.
The ARC mentioned children experiencing worse asthma symptoms due to second hand smoke. The council suggested state-implemented smoking restrictions in the home and in motor vehicles carrying children.
According to the ARC this asthma epidemic is “emblematic of a more pervasive problem within our health system that favors treating illnesses rather than strategically preventing and proactively managing them in the first place.” The council criticized the public health system for its lack of “individual and community education, and proactive disease management," as well as its failure to properly address "the systemic barriers to community health, including environmental interventions.”
May is Asthma Awareness Month. For the full report, please see asthmaregionalcouncil.org/asthma-surveillance.html.