Hispanics in Tennessee Burdened by Asthma

(October 25, 2011)

The American Lung Association released a new report today, Luchando por el Aire: The Burden of Asthma on Hispanics, which provides an overview of the complex biological, environmental, political and cultural factors that increase asthma's burden on the Hispanic population in Tennessee and across the country. This report is part of the Lung Association's Disparities in Lung Health Series.  

In Tennessee, there are 291,920 Hispanics, many of whom may be needlessly suffering from asthma, a severe chronic, or life long, disease that can be serious – even life threatening. There is no cure for asthma, but it is manageable and treatable. 128,066 children and 388,753 adults in Tennessee have asthma. The rate of asthma in Tennessee is in line with the national average of 8%.

The Spanish title of this new report is the best translation of "fighting for air," an experience that is all too common among Hispanics with asthma. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics with asthma are less likely to be in the care of a regular doctor or clinic; less likely to be prescribed appropriate medicines; less likely to have access to specialized care; and more likely to end up being treated in the emergency department or hospitalized in a crisis.

 Unfortunately, more than 25 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are without a regular source of medical care, and when they get sick they are more likely to end up being treated in the emergency department or hospitalized. Although Hispanics are only 16 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly one-third of people who do not have health insurance nationwide.

 When it comes to managing their asthma, Hispanics also face other burdens that are due to the environment, poverty and stress. For example, Hispanics are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution, and 51 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Unfortunately, Nashville, TN has many outdoor air quality issues, which contribute to asthma problems. Davidson County received an F on the American Lung Association's 2011 State of the Air Report for ozone and a D for particulate matter.

Hispanics are also more likely to work in low-paying agriculture, construction and service jobs that rarely provide health benefits and often expose workers to serious respiratory hazards such as secondhand smoke.

Hispanics are less protected from secondhand smoke in the workplace than any group except for American Indian/Alaska Natives. They report that only 69.1 percent of their workplaces are smoke-free, compared to the 76.3 percent reported by non-Hispanic whites. This is particularly unfair because the great majority of Hispanics make the personal choice not to be an active smoker. Only 14.5% of Hispanics smoke compared to the overall national average of 20.6% of the U.S. population. 

According to Fernando Pineda-Reyes, CEO of CREA Results, whose organization of Promotores de Salud/Community Health Workers seeks to raise awareness and education on health issues in the Latino community, "Asthma is a frightening disease for individuals in the Hispanic community, especially when language barriers are present. That's why the Lung Association asthma management programs provide much-needed help to people in our community suffering from asthma."  

The American Lung Association in Tennessee provides assistance to children and adults with asthma.  

• Asthma 1-2-3 is a youth asthma management program led by an American Lung Association-trained Facilitator offered to teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with youths. The workshop teaches adults the knowledge and management skills necessary to take control of asthma in the classroom or on the field. 

• Freedom from smoking is a group program and online option that provides counseling for smokers looking to quit. It meets the criteria for intensive tobacco cessation counseling covered by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and meets the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Clinical Practice Guideline for treating tobacco use and dependence. It was ranked the most effective smoking cessation program in a study of 100 managed care organizations conducted by Fordham University. It generates higher smoking rates than rates of those people who try to quit on their own.

• The Lung HelpLine, 1-800-LUNG-USA, offers one-on-one support from Spanish-speaking registered nurses and respiratory therapists. Individuals have the opportunity to seek guidance on asthma control and find out how to participate in Lung Association asthma programs.  

In addition to expanding the Lung Association's capability to provide its programs to members of the Hispanic community, there are also several other action steps to help reduce the burden of asthma and help everyone breathe easier. These steps are detailed in the full report, and include making sure that federal agencies continue to aggressively implement the Affordable Care Act; that the CDC continues to fund the National Asthma Control Program; and for public and private funders to increase the investment in disparities-related research.

In Tennessee, the primary thing people can do to help Hispanics with asthma is become educated by accessing American Lung Association programs, refrain from smoking around asthmatics and support clean indoor and outdoor air laws. You can get involved in clean air advocacy campaigns by visiting www.alatn.org and become an e-advocate.