Skip to main content

31-07-2013 | Respiratory | Article

Asthma findings make racism ‘a public health issue’


Free abstract

medwireNews: Research shows that experiences of racism by African–American women are significantly associated with the development of adult-onset asthma.

“Given the high prevalence of this stressor in the lives of African American women, the association is of significant public health importance,” say study authors Patricia Coogan (Boston University, Massachusetts, USA) and colleagues, writing in Chest.

The team used data from 38,142 women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study between 1997 and 2011. Overall, 1068 reported newly diagnosed asthma during biannual follow up.

The researchers found that increasing everyday racism scores – calculated from responses to five statements, including “you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants or stores,” and “people act as if they are afraid of you,” – in 1997 were associated with increasing odds for incident asthma during follow up. For example, women in the fourth quartile for everyday racism had a 45% greater odds for asthma than women in the first quartile.

Lifetime racism, defined as being treated unfairly due to race with regard to work or housing, or by the police, was also associated with incident asthma, with an 18% and 44% increased odds in women reporting two or three of these experiences, respectively, compared with none.

Furthermore, the effects were even more pronounced in a subanalysis of women who reported the same level of everyday and lifetime racism in 1997 and 2009, who the authors say may have therefore had a more consistent experience of racism over time. Women in the highest categories of everyday and lifetime racism in both years had a 112% and 66% greater odds for asthma, respectively, compared with those in the lowest categories.

“Our observations contribute to a growing body of evidence indicating that experiences of racism can have adverse health effects,” say the authors, citing evidence of associations with hypertension, preterm birth, sleep disturbance, and obesity.

Coogan and team say that the findings call for public health interventions.

“School- and community-based programs to combat racism, if successful, may have benefits for health. Furthermore, interventions to reduce racism-related stress may be an important component of any comprehensive strategy for primary asthma prevention, especially in communities with a high proportion of minority residents and a high prevalence of asthma,” they conclude.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Kirsty Oswald, medwireNews Reporter

Related topics