Houston’s Air Quality is Improving, but Asthma Disparities Persist

Leah Binkovitz | @leahbink | January 24, 2017

Image via flickr/Jasleen Kaur.

Houston ranks 15th among the most polluted cities, according to the latest report from the American Lung Association.

The good news: that’s an improvement. The bad news: the city still ranked high for ozone and year-round particle pollution, which can contribute to conditions like asthma. And, as is the case nationally, such conditions are not evenly dispersed throughout the city across¬†race.

Multiple studies have linked asthma in children to increased academic struggles, in part, due to missed school days. In Houston, asthma rates differ depending on geography, race and other factors, as the Kinder Institute has previously documented.

That’s why researchers, including Katherine Ensor, a statistics professor at Rice University and the director of the Kinder Institute’s Urban Data Platform, advocate for a full-time nurse in every Houston Independent School District school. Her work, along with researchers with the Institute’s Urban Health Program has helped chart the areas most likely to experience asthma and asthma-related absences. They’ve also revealed a profound overlap between asthma and poverty in the city.

Now, new data from the American Housing Survey confirms that different communities report different rates of asthma diagnosis. Only 12 percent of white households with children ages 5 to 17 have had an asthma diagnosis, compared to 24 percent of black families in Houston. Families with a black householder also reported being much more likely to have gone to the emergency room or urgent care for an asthma-related incident than other families.

Interestingly, though diagnosis rates varied, the reported use of daily preventative medicine for asthma in the past three months was more or less consistent across race and ethnicity.

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Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is Senior Editor with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

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