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NHLBI Reports New Asthma Data for World Asthma Day 2001

For Immediate Release:
May 3, 2001

Asthma Still a Problem But More Groups Fighting It

In observance of the third annual World Asthma Day, May 3, 2001, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health today reported that asthma continues to be a major public health problem in the U.S., but more organizations at both the national and community levels are joining together to combat it.

Citing new data showing continuing increases in rates of asthma-related hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and deaths, especially among minority populations, the Institute called on all members of the community to embrace this cause.

Said NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant, "It is encouraging that more groups are joining in the fight against asthma. But more still must be done. We need to take aggressive action to reach all Americans with asthma with the messages about effective asthma management that our research has produced so that they can take control of their asthma and lead normal, active lives."

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that increasingly is being recognized as a major international public health problem. During the past 15 years, its prevalence around the world has doubled. In the U.S., rates of asthma deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits have been increasing for more than two decades, especially among African Americans and children. Since 1979-82, the average age-adjusted asthma death rate for blacks has increased 71 percent versus 41 percent for Caucasians, and in 1995-1998, it was almost three times that of Caucasians.

Similarly, between 1992 and 1998, rates of emergency department visits for asthma increased, with the greatest increase in children ages 10-17. Children under 5 accounted for the highest rates of emergency department visits. Hospitalization rates also rose during this time period. Between 1979-81 and 1997-99, hospitalization rates for children under 5 increased 48 percent. In 1997-99, hospitalization rates were more than three times higher for African Americans than for whites.

The cost of asthma in 2000 was estimated to be $12.7 billion, with direct costs amounting to $8.1 billion and lost earnings due to illness and death totaling $4.6 billion.

World Asthma Day is a partnership between health care groups and asthma educators organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma, a collaborative effort of the NHLBI and the World Health Organization. On this day, public officials, health organizations, and patient groups in countries throughout the world are developing special activities to increase public awareness of the burden of the disease and to encourage efforts to improve asthma care.

More than 40 organizations throughout the U.S. are organizing asthma education activities in conjunction with World Asthma Day 2001. These include three community-based asthma coalitions in communities with exceptionally high asthma death rates that are being funded by the NHLBI to develop innovative, model programs for improving asthma care, especially among children, minorities, and low-income individuals. These are the Merced/Mariposa Asthma Coalition in Fresno, CA; the Chicago Asthma Consortium; and the Columbia University Asthma Coalition in New York City. Other organizations developing major World Asthma Day 2001 activities include the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology; American Lung Association, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all members of the NHLBI's National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee. A list of the U.S. organizations conducting World Asthma Day activities is available on the NHLBI Web Site at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/index.htm under World Asthma Day.

For additional information, contact the NHLBI Communications Office, (301) 496-4236.

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