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Asthma Impacts on American Indian/Alaska Native People

 

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America report on Asthma Disparities in America looks at the burden of asthma on racial/ethnic groups in the United States.

Health disparities are preventable health differences between groups of people. Health disparities are higher burdens of illness or death linked to social, economic, and environmental disadvantages. For example, if one group of people has a higher rate of asthma than another group of people, it is an asthma disparity.

This month is Native American Heritage Month. American Indian/Alaska Native people in the U.S. have experienced historical trauma and racism that is directly tied to poorer health. We are putting a spotlight on the burden of asthma on Indigenous Americans.


The American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) people have a long history of health disparities. This has led to poorer quality of life and shorter life span for AI/AN people. The causes of health disparities experienced by AI/AN people are complex.

Causes of Asthma Disparities in American Indian/Alaska Native Groups

Historical trauma has had a lasting effect on the AI/AN groups. It is a form of structural racism. It shapes the health outcomes of certain racial and ethnic groups. AI/AN people have had centuries of racism and government-sponsored land reform. This has led to more poverty, housing problems and instability than the average person in the U.S. faces.

Factors that affect the health of AI/AN people:

  • Lack of health services or insurance
  • Communication barriers with health care workers
  • Long distances to health care
  • Lack of diversity in health care workers
  • Poverty
  • Poor quality housing
  • High levels of indoor and outdoor air pollution
  • Racism and not being treated fairly

Burden of Asthma on American Indian/Alaska Native Groups

Health data on tribal nations is limited, but there are clear disparities. Here are some findings from our report:

  • More than one out of 10 AI/AN people have asthma
  • AI/AN people have a higher risk of dying from a lower lung disease, such as asthma
  • One out of three AI/AN high school youth with asthma are exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Tribal communities are exposed to higher rates of air pollution
  • Some AI/AN groups report higher rates of asthma attacks
  • Among AI/AN groups, the Navajo Nation has the highest rates for hospital stays due to asthma

asthma-disparities AI-AN-populations

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Improving the Health of American Indian/Alaska Native Groups

Many tribal health groups are working to improve health in their communities.

A group called the Tribal Public and Environmental Health Think Tank is working to improve AI/AN health. Their goals include:

  • Doing in-home asthma care, visits and education
  • Using community health workers to provide education
  • Training health care workers to give care that best suits AI/AN people
  • Giving products that help reduce asthma triggers in the home

Learn more in "Spotlight: Asthma Disparities Among Indigenous Americans" from our Asthma Disparities in America report:

Download Spotlight: Asthma Disparities Among Indigenous Americans Download PDF

AAFA is working to reduce asthma disparities for at-risk groups and improve asthma care for everyone. We developed a list of nearly 70 strategies to make asthma health better for racial and ethnic groups. Recently, we received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help us grow community health for at-risk groups.


The Asthma Disparities in America report is made possible by support from AstraZeneca, Genentech, Novartis, PhRMA, and Sanofi Genzyme and Regeneron. The full report can be found at aafa.org/asthmadisparities.

Improving Asthma Care

Sign up for AAFA’s community to stay up to date about the following opportunities to get involved:

  • Advocate for people affected by asthma
  • Take part in patient-centered research and clinical trials
  • Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council
  • Get invitations to special events with expert speakers

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