Asthma Rates Among Blacks Will Take Your Breath Away

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In a speech to the Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Fast-forward 50 years, and unfortunately, not much has changed. Communities of color, and particularly the African-American community, suffer disproportionately from myriad diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast cancer, even depression.

One such disease, whose numbers climb higher and higher every year in the black community, is asthma. Asthma has become a silent killer in our communities—often not viewed in the same vein as some of the aforementioned diseases. We have become accustomed to its prevalence and are apathetic to the risks it poses to ourselves—especially our children. But make no mistake, with death rates three times higher among African Americans than among whites, asthma is a killer.

On May 3 we commemorate World Asthma Day. For many, it serves as a day to improve asthma awareness and care around the world, but for communities of color in the United States, this day must be a call to action.


The statistics are alarming. The Environmental Protection Agency reported (pdf) almost a 50 percent increase in asthma rates among black children from 2001 to 2009—that translates to about 1 out of every 6 black children. While it’s easy to blame this spike on high pollen counts during these spring and early-summer months, the real reason for the rise in asthma cases is the increased levels of ozone caused by climate change. The higher ozone levels exacerbate asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments that disproportionately harm African Americans, leading to increased hospitalizations and deaths.

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