Student Well-Being

No Relief From Secondhand Smoke for Youth With Asthma, CDC Says

By Ross Brenneman — August 08, 2013 2 min read

It’s something in the air.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study today that shows no change over the previous decade in the exposure of children with asthma to secondhand smoke. Children without asthma did, however, show diminished exposure over the same period.

The CDC used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, covering 1999-2010. The survey defines children with asthma as those who have been medically diagnosed and who parents say still have the condition.

Asthma affects approximately one of every 10 children in United States, and doctors recommend children with asthma avoid smoke and other respiratory irritants. Asthma has been linked to higher rates of school absenteeism.

Recognizing the problems that asthma causes, Congress used the Public Health Service Act to establish grants for asthma education programs, giving priority to programs “in localities within areas of known or suspected high prevalence of childhood asthma or high asthma-related mortality or high rate of hospitalization or emergency room visits for asthma.”

This CDC report opens the possibility that those grants are having minimal effect. Notice the stubborn trends:

Smoking has often been linked more heavily to impoverished areas, but note that even during the last decade’s two recessions, in 2001 and 2008, the rates of secondhand smoke exposure didn’t significantly change, despite increased poverty levels. By contrast, the rate of exposure in children without asthma to secondhand smoke started to decline significantly in the middle of the last decade. So it seems like economic trends, while not unimportant, are also not the driving force behind the disparity.

Some other interesting notes of comparison: There were almost no differences in exposure among black children, but other races showed greater variance. And socioeconomically, children with asthma fared worse at every economic level except for families living 300 percent over the federal poverty limit. (Roughly, the upper middle class.)

As a guess, it’s also possible that smoke exposure really is down, but asthma awareness increased, leading to increased diagnoses and keeping the trend roughly level. Just a thought.

On a separate note about smoking, the National Institutes of Health recently hosted a discussion with Dr. Leslie Leve, a researcher who found a correlation between smoking during pregnancy and childhood behavioral problems, even among children who were immediately put up for adoption, which would rule out many early environmental influences. Mothers who smoked the most during pregnancy were found to have the most impulsive children.

Here is the full report:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.