Feature

Health scare of the week: An asthma epidemic?

The overall prevalence of asthma is up 12 percent since 2001.

More Americans now have asthma than ever before, says a new report from the CDC, and experts don’t understand why. Though key asthma triggers such as cigarette smoke have become less present over the past decade, cases of the disorder have shot up in every demographic category. One in 10 children and one in 12 adults have asthma, and its overall prevalence is up 12 percent since 2001. Black children are the hardest hit, with 17 percent suffering asthma symptoms. Scientists are struggling to figure out what’s behind the outbreak by examining potential environmental causes—car exhaust, pesticides, chemicals in plastics—as well as lifestyle risks such as obesity. “There’s no easy singular explanation,” Rachel Miller, director of the asthma project at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, tells The New York Times. “The more we study this, the more it raises a lot of questions. It’s not a straightforward puzzle at all.” Asthma attacks already kill thousands of people a year, so health officials say there should be new emphasis on teaching asthma sufferers how to manage their symptoms.

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