8:05 PM EST, January 11, 2013
Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children and, according to the state Department of Public Health, Connecticut's rate of childhood asthma is higher than the national average. That news should prompt government agencies and private citizens to do more to address this controllable condition.
Exactly why children in our state have a disproportionately high rate of asthma — 11.3 percent, as opposed to 9.4 percent nationally — is less well understood, but years of studies seem to show a link between the disease and income. The most recent analysis showed that twice as many children in households with annual incomes less than $15,000 have asthma as those living in households with annual incomes of $75,000.
That fact hits Connecticut particularly hard. Although on average we are a wealthy state, there is certainly much poverty. The latest U.S. Census survey showed that nearly 15 percent of the state's children are poor; in Hartford, the figure is almost 50 percent.
Impoverished households often have some of the risk factors associated with asthma, such as smoking indoors and dust mites. Marital disruption and a large number of children — both disproportionately associated with low-income households — also seem linked to the incidence of asthma.
But that can't answer basic questions, such as: Why does Connecticut have a higher rate of asthma than, say, West Virginia or Mississippi? Do urban poverty and rural poverty affect the asthma rate differently, as some theorize?
Regardless of the cause, the fact is that there's lots of asthma in Connecticut — and lots that can be done to combat it.
Individuals should, at the very least, stop smoking. Getting rid of mold, dust and cockroaches in the home can also help, experts say. Families should learn all they can about both short-term "rescue" and long-term medications to reduce symptoms.
The state can help, too. In one program, "Putting on Airs," environmental specialists or nurses review anti-asthma checklists with families in their homes. Follow-up calls and visits help ensure that effective steps are being taken.
We may not yet have all the answers about why there is so much asthma in Connecticut, but that shouldn't stop us from fighting back hard.
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