Black children are more than four times as likely to end up in a hospital emergency room due to asthma than white children, according to latest data.
Chicago has long been known as an epicenter for asthma, with higher rates of the disease in minority communities on the city’s south and west sides. A new report examining data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) shows little progress in addressing these disparities, with even more troubling trends among children.
The report, released today by Respiratory Health Association (RHA), focuses on the rates of asthma-related emergency department (ED) visits from 2016 to 2021, and follows up on a report released in 2018. It documents increasing racial health disparities among Chicago children.
Between 2016 and 2021, there were 23,550 asthma-related ED visits among Chicago children 19 years old and younger. Most of those visits, 70% (16,436), were among school age children 5-19 years. In total, Black children accounted for 53% of these 16,436 asthma-related ED visits. In children 4 years old and younger, 40% of visits were by Black children.
“Every child should have the same opportunity to breathe easy, and it’s clear we need to do more to understand and address the disparities,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It’s unfair these kids have to miss out on time with classmates and friends – and fall behind – just because of their asthma.”
While disparities in asthma-related ED visits exist across all races, the greatest gaps are between Black and white children – and that gap increased during the latest reporting period. As of 2021, Black children ages 5 to 19 years old were 4.3 times more likely to have an asthma-related ED visit than white children. This is a 9% increase from the gap previously reported in 2016.
Additionally, there were 3,148 ambulance visits to schools for asthma-related emergencies where race was documented. In these cases, 84% of students requiring an ED visit were Black. Notably, just 36% of Chicago Public School students are Black.
“Unfortunately, many Chicago area kids are feeling some of the worst effects from asthma,” noted Erica Salem, Senior Director, Strategy, Programs and Policy at RHA. “It’s crucial to support more research into these racial disparities and expand community- and school-based asthma programming. With the City of Chicago aiming to eliminate racial health disparities, an investment in asthma is long overdue.”
The report’s release comes during Asthma Awareness Month, observed every May to help people learn about the disease and discuss ways to control it. A combination of asthma education and proper treatment have been shown to help kids manage their asthma and live well.
You can read RHA’s full report on childhood asthma disparities in Chicago here.