Many Lung Diseases More Prevalent in Diverse Populations

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 4, 2010)

Despite decades of advances in medical technology and research, a new report released today by the American Lung Association reveals improvements in lung diseases have not been equally distributed  by income, race, ethnicity, education and geography. The report, State of Lung Disease in Diverse Communities: 2010, provides members of these communities much needed health information that can be used in the fight against lung diseases, including lung cancer, asthma and influenza, as well as risk factors that cause or contribute to lung disease. 

The report finds diverse communities experience a host of societal problems at a higher rate than Caucasians.  For example, according to 2008 figures, 58 percent of the nearly 40 million people living in poverty were racial and ethnic minorities.  In addition, out of the more than 46 million Americans living without health coverage, communities of color made up 54 percent of the uninsured. 

"People within diverse communities are more likely to be uninsured, less likely to have a regular health care provider and, in turn, suffer from poor health.  They are also more likely to die prematurely," said Mary Partridge, Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association.  "These differences, if not addressed, will continue to impair healthcare within the United States."

The report finds access to and utilization of care is further affected by poor provider-patient communication, poor health literacy, and other factors, such as Hispanics and Asian Americans who may be limited by lack of available services in their parent language. 

"Certain populations are also at increased risk of lung disease because they live in substandard housing, and are exposed to elevated levels of outdoor and indoor air contaminants, or they may have higher than average smoking rates," said Dr. Norman Edelman, American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer.  "Some minority groups may be at increased risk of certain lung diseases simply because they are genetically predisposed to these conditions."

Looking at the nation as a whole, the American Lung Association State of Lung Disease in Diverse Communities 2010 finds:

  • Studies have linked air pollution to heart disease, cancer, asthma, other illnesses, and even death. Communities of color are especially vulnerable as both African Americans and Hispanics have been found to be more likely than Caucasians to live in areas with high levels of air toxics and that are disproportionately located near freeways and other areas with heavy traffic.
  • African Americans are more likely to develop and die of lung cancer than Caucasians, despite lower smoking rates. This difference is most pronounced among men, as African American men are 37 percent more likely to develop and 22.5 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than Caucasian men. Lung cancer incidence rates among Native American tribes greatly vary from each other, with Northern Plains tribes having rates that are 7 times greater than those seen among Southwest tribes (104.3 per 100,000 versus 14.9 per 100,000, respectively). In addition, American Indians and Alaska Natives were 39.6 percent more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer before the age of 65 compared to Whites.
  • Hispanics are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to be employed in high-risk occupations where they are overexposed to occupational respiratory hazards that are associated with lung disease. Hispanics account for 28.2 percent of building cleaners, 59.3 percent of agricultural graders and sorters, 29.9 percent of brick and stonemasons, and 57.7 percent of cement workers.
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of smoking among all racial and ethnic groups. American Indians and Alaska Natives youth had the greatest cigarette smoking prevalence (23.1%), followed by Caucasians (14.9%), Hispanics (9.3%), African Americans (6.5%), and Asian Americans (4.3%). In addition, recent studies indicate there is widespread prevalence of smoking in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) communities, which puts them at an increased risk for lung cancer, COPD, coronary heart disease, and other smoking-related diseases.
  • African Americans and Hispanics are significantly less likely to receive influenza or pneumonia vaccinations than their Caucasian counterparts. A recent report on healthcare disparities found that one of the three largest disparities facing Asian Americans (compared to Caucasians) was in rates of adults 65 and over who had never received a pneumococcal vaccination. Influenza and pneumonia are the fourth leading cause of death among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the age of 65; this ranking is higher than what is seen among other racial groups.


About the American Lung Association

Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is "Fighting for Air" through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit