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Asthma hits state's poor the hardest

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Asthma is on the rise in California, and the low-income tend to bear the greatest burden from the condition, according to a report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Since 2001, the percent of Californians diagnosed with asthma has increased from 11.3 percent to 13 percent, the study shows [PDF]. Asthma is most common in Central Valley and in Northern California counties, and least common in wealthy and coastal San Francisco.

The report found that asthma tends to be harder on people whose family income fell under about $41,300 for a family of four. Specifically:

  • Low-income people went to the emergency room or urgent care twice as often as wealthier people.
  • Hospitalization rates for low-income kids and adults was five times higher than for the more affluent.
  • Second-hand smoke exposure – which can worsen asthma symptoms – is more than three times more common in low-income homes.

Complicating matters, low-income families were also far more likely to be uninsured and to have no consistent source of medical care.

To address these problems, the study's authors suggest an expansion of health coverage to low-income Californians.

They also suggest that asthma might be better stabilized with high-quality care that involves disease management programs or a "medical home" model. Authors also urged improvement of the housing conditions of low-income people, which can include mold, roaches, second-hand smoke or other irritants.

The study also found that Central Valley counties including Fresno, Merced and Sacramento have higher levels of asthma than coastal counties including Ventura and Monterey.

The UCLA study, based on information from the California Health Information Survey, builds on work that the Department of Public Health has done around asthma.

The California Breathing website includes information about asthma triggers and treatment, as well as county-level data about incidence of the condition.

That group issued a report in 2007 about the burden of asthma in California. There was some good news in that report [PDF]: Asthma mortality rates have fallen markedly, from 19.3 deaths per million in 1999 to 13 per million in 2004.

 

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