Higher Asthma Burden Among Minorities, Low-Income Groups Tied to Increased Exposure to Air Pollution

According to a recently released study, low-income populations and racial and ethnic minorities (Latino, African-American and Asian/Pacific Islander/other) were exposed to greater levels of certain air pollutants and, in turn, suffered increases in asthma-related difficulties, from asthma attacks and daily medication use to work absences and emergency room visits. The study, led by Dr. Ying-Ying Meng, co-director of the Chronic Disease Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and funded by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), was concluded last year and recently released by the ARB.

Previous research has shown that children, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income Californians suffer disproportionately from asthma burdens, such as asthma attacks and asthma-like symptoms. This latest study sought to determine whether the asthma burden disparity is due to exposure to higher levels of air pollutants, greater vulnerability, or both. Vulnerability refers to external factors, such as socioeconomic status, residential location and occupational exposure, which influence the risk of adverse health effects related to exposure to air pollution.

Investigators observed:

  • Asthma or asthma-symptom sufferers who lived within 750 feet of roadways with high traffic density had increases in asthma-related trips to the emergency room;
  • Positive associations between asthma outcomes and the number of days for which air quality exceeded state or federal standards for ozone and particulate matter; and
  • Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native and Asian/Pacific Islander/other children had a greater increase in the odds of experiencing daily or weekly asthma symptoms for the same increase in nitrogen dioxide. Latino children had a greater increase in the odds of using daily asthma medication for the same increase in PM10, and African-American and Asian/Pacific Islander/other children had greater increases in the odds of daily or weekly symptoms than white children for a comparable increase in PM10.

The above information was taken from a press release from the ARB. The full study is also online.