Despite improvements in air quality and other advances, Americans with low incomes more often have asthma, lung disease and related illnesses, a new study has found (Source: “Poor Americans More Likely to Have Respiratory Problems, Study Finds,” New York Times, May 28).
In recent decades, air quality has improved in the United States, smoking rates have plummeted and government safety regulations have reduced exposure to workplace pollutants. But rich and poor Americans have not benefited equally, scientists reported in a paper on Friday.
While wealthier Americans have quit smoking in droves, tobacco use remains frequent among the poor. Asthma has become more prevalent among all children, but it has increased more drastically in low-income communities. And Americans with lower incomes continue to have more chronic lung disease than the wealthy.
The analysis, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, included data from national health surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention periodically from 1959 to 2018. The study did not examine disparities in respiratory health by race or ethnicity, though it assessed both income-based and education-based differences in lung health.
Before the 1980s, smoking rates did not vary much by income, and they only slightly varied by education level: 62% of the wealthiest adults and 56% of the poorest were either current or former smokers. But that has changed drastically. By the survey period 2017-18, current and former smoking rates among the wealthiest dropped by nearly half to 34% — while rates among the poorest inched up to 57.9%.