February marks Black History Month in the United States. It celebrates the major successes of Black Americans throughout history. It is also a chance to learn about key moments that have not only shaped the Black experience in America, but that of the entire nation. At the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), we believe one of the best ways to honor the past is to heal the present and fight for a more equitable future.
AAFA is dedicated to reducing racial disparities in asthma, food allergy, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and other related diseases. And although we advocate for health equity year-round, Black History Month is a good time to highlight what must be done to reduce health disparities.
AAFA’s Chief Mission Officer, Melanie Carver, highlights the asthma disparities in a recent article called, “Why Gaps in Asthma Outcomes Persist in Black Americans.” The article includes findings from AAFA’s 2020 Asthma Disparities in America report. It talked about the higher risks Black Americans face compared to white Americans. Black Americans are:
- One and a half times more likely to have asthma
- Three times more likely to die from asthma
- Five times more likely to visit an emergency room due to asthma
Melanie also describes social and structural determinants of health. These are the most important drivers of these disparities. Social determinants of health include:
- Socioeconomic status
- Neighborhood and physical environment
- Social support networks
- Access to health care
And structural determinants of health include:
- Systemic racism and discrimination
- Residential segregation and discriminatory housing policies
- Discriminatory hiring and promotion practices
- Stereotyping and stigmatization
- Explicit and implicit bias
- Environmental injustice
Sadly, social and structural determinants of health also have a negative impact on other the health outcomes for Black Americans. Black children are 7% more likely to have food allergy than white children. And Black children are more likely to die from anaphylaxis from food allergy than white children.
Eczema is also more common among Black Americans than white Americans. As Lynell Doyle, board member for National Eczema Association and a member of AAFA’s community, said in a companion article, “I wish more dermatologists knew that eczema in patients of color can present differently than it does in white patients.”
As a parent of a Black child with eczema, Lynell goes on to talk about her desires for better care from dermatologists. Environment and living conditions play a major role in eczema flare ups. They are too often overlooked when caring for Black patients.
Addressing the urgent health care needs of Black patients is very important. But it will not be enough to address the continuing health disparities in asthma and allergies. We must take a holistic approach that addresses education, labor, housing, social services, and environment to begin to reduce the inequities faced by Black Americans.
How Can You Help Reduce Asthma and Allergy Disparities?
The only way we can reduce health disparities is if we all work together. Everyone – from people with asthma and allergies to policy makers and the health care industry – can be a part of building programs that make a lasting difference for people, families and communities impacted by asthma and allergies.
Sign up for AAFA’s community to stay up to date about the following opportunities to get involved:
- Advocate for people affected by asthma disparities
- Participate in patient-centered research and clinical trials
- Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council
You can also donate to support AAFA’s mission to create real and lasting change.