June 4, 2012

HUD Working to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities Among our Children

Written by:

Peter Ashley, HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control

Last week, Secretary Donovan joined White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the Boys and Girls Club in S.E. Washington, D.C. to announce the release of the Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities.   The plan focuses on reducing disparities in the prevalence and severity of asthma among children.

As Secretary Donovan noted, “I’m here because we are learning more and more that health and even life expectancy aren’t just about the quality of your health care, but it’s also about where you live. You’re more likely to have asthma as a child if you grow up in a home with asthma triggers like mold or you grow up around folks who smoke. And you’re more likely to live in these kinds of conditions if you live in poverty.”

Research has also demonstrated that allergens from pests such as cockroaches and mice are important asthma triggers, and we know that pest infestation is also more common in low income homes.

About 7 million U.S. children have asthma and the disease is more common among poor minority children.  For example, while the nation’s overall asthma rate is 9.4 percent, the prevalence among black children is 16 percent and 12.2 percent for children in poverty.  When you consider the total costs, including medical treatment as well as lost school and work days, asthma’s price tag is

Secretary Donovan pointed to the success that we have had as a nation in reducing the number of children with lead poisoning (a reduction of approximately 75 percent over the last two decades) as an example of what we could achieve on asthma.

The Federal Action Plan seeks to:

  •  Reduce barriers to asthma care: Ensure that the people most severely impacted by asthma receive comprehensive care that is based on scientific evidence, and that includes access to medical services, education and environmental interventions.
  • Build local capacity: Enhance capacity to deliver integrated, community-based asthma care systems.
  • Target services: Identify the children, families and communities most impacted by asthma disparities.
  • Accelerate prevention efforts: Increase understanding of the cause or causes of asthma and test interventions that may prevent the onset of asthma.

HUD is making important progress in each of these strategies.  For example, the Department’s promotion of smoke-free public housing is expected to improve the health of children with asthma who will no longer be exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.  Also, grants from the Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control (OHHLHC) are being used throughout the country to address important asthma triggers such as mold, moisture and pest infestations.  The OHHLHC is also supporting research to identify effective home intervention strategies for improving asthma control, including the use of trained community health workers to conduct home visits that include education and environmental assessments.

By improving coordination and the leveraging of resources among the federal agencies, implementation of the Action Plan will magnify the impact of the Department’s current and future efforts to reduce asthma disparities through targeted improvements in housing conditions.

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