July 18th, 2011

Asthma Treatment is Key to Better Attendance

Recently, we’ve taken a close look at health issues that create barriers to attendance. Today we examine asthma, a leading cause of absenteeism.  The Los Angeles County School Attendance Review Board  reports that nearly 6 million school-aged children suffered from asthma in 2007, and 12.3 million school days were missed due to asthma in 2003.

What’s more, according to this 2006 Centers for Disease Control report,  childhood asthma rates are historically high and have not decreased since the 1990s. Children with asthma are not only missing school, they have difficulty playing and sleeping, and can sometimes need expensive or complicated medical treatment. In some cases, asthma attacks can be life-threatening

In addition, asthma disproportionately affects low-income and minority students. The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Racial Justice released a study and accompanying PowerPoint detailing several barriers to attendance in Baltimore. According to the study, African-American children are four to six times more likely than white children to die from asthma.

However, there is some good news. Unlike dental health, which has not been as widely studied, researchers and community groups have developed a number of promising strategies for dealing with asthma. Though it is difficult to prevent, parents and schools can work to be sure that asthma does not lead to absenteeism.   

A model for success: San Antonio

The Asthma Coalition of Texas, found that about one tenth of students are missing two to three weeks of school each year because of asthma.  This 2010 article outlines Superintendent Richard A. Middleton’s strategies for fixing the problem.  

First, he created a Department of Environmental Health to monitor air quality and mold in classrooms, an effort that won honors from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. Second, he focused on parental and student education, using communitywide “Asthma Blow-Outs,” and tools such as this Asthma Action Plan.

The program was successful. From 2006 to 2007 the number of students needing inhalers dropped by nearly half. What’s more, the initiatives did not cost much money. In fact, the district improved its attendance rates, thereby bringing in extra state funds. Other cities are following suit – last month, New York City introduced a promising new initiative to address asthma.

A new, interagency effort: New York City

The absenteeism situation in New York City is difficult. According to the City Health Commissioner, asthma is a leading cause of absenteeism. The city’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism, & School Engagement has had much success, however absentee rates remain high (20 percent of students missed a month or more of school, according to a recent analysis).  Now, the task force is launching the NYC Asthma Friendly Schools Campaign in conjunction with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  This exciting initiative involves community partners, government agencies, parents and teachers in combating asthma.

The campaign starts with four public schools this spring and will expand to 20 schools next fall. Highlights of the program include

  • Asthma Ambassador Corps:  Community members trained by the DOE/DOHMH will provide individualized support to students with asthma.
  • Physical Education Teacher Training: the Office of School Health will train PE teachers in helping students with asthma.
  • American Lung Association’s Open Airways Program: This widely-renowned asthma management program will be expanded and strengthened.
  • Partnership with the New York Sports Club:  The NYSC will provide morning fitness classes and trainers will visit schools to promote health and wellness.

In addition, a state senator representing the Bronx has submitted legislation that would train teachers how to handle asthma emergencies, limit the use of certain chemicals in schools, create an asthma tracking system and expand a ban on idling cars on school grounds. 

Combating absenteeism means accounting for many different factors that make it difficult for students to get to school. The systematic, multi-faceted approaches taken by San Antonio and New York City are excellent models for addressing health issues, and for reducing health-related absences in general. For more resources on asthma and other health issues that relate to absenteeism, check out our Tools for Healthcare Providers.

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One Response to “Asthma Treatment is Key to Better Attendance”

  1. [...] out of school and limit their engagement during class. In this installation in our series on health issues that impact attendance, we explore why schools should have a stake in their students’ [...]