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The Cost of America’s Childhood Asthma Epidemic

little girl with inhaler for asthmaStory Highlights
  • Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children under the age of 18.
  • Increasing prevalence of childhood asthma is especially concerning given that there is uncertainty about why asthma is on the rise.
  • The economic burden of childhood asthma is significant and has serious implications for our future.

Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. The prevalence of chronic diseases among children continue to rise1 with asthma being one of the most common chronic disorders in childhood affecting an estimated 7.1 million children under 18 years of age, of which 4.1 million suffered from an asthma attack or an episode in 2011.2

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that manifests itself through reoccurring periods of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and difficulty in breathing.3 During an asthma attack, muscles around the airways constrict, tighten and the lining of the airways become inflamed and swollen resulting in less air flow into the lungs.3 Asthma attacks tend to be triggered by environmental stimuli such as  indoor and outdoor allergens (pollen, mold, dust mites, etc.), tobacco smoke, air pollution, temperature change, etc.4

The severity of asthma ranges from milder forms to life threatening. Current medical opinion is that asthma cannot be cured but only managed through medical treatment with anti-inflammatory agents (inhaled steroids) and bronchodilators to prevent and control attacks.5

An Epidemic with an Unclear Cause

There is growing concern about the skyrocketing rates of childhood asthma in the United States. Asthma affects children more often than adults.6 After a decade of steady decline in 1970s, the number of children suffering from asthma has increased dramatically beginning in the early 1980s.5 The number of children with asthma has risen from 2.5 million in 1982 to approximately 7.1 million in 2010.2 4 5

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 10 children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old has asthma7 and it is the third leading cause of hospital stays in children under the age of 15.2 8

There are different theories about the potential causes of asthma and researchers have speculated that the interaction of genetic and environmental factors occurring in the early years of life may be the cause of the onset of asthma.9 Some of these factors include an inherited tendency to develop allergies (atopy), parents who have asthma, respiratory infections during childhood, etc.9 10 A theory that is being taken more seriously to explain the increasing prevalence of asthma is the “hygiene hypothesis.”11

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology:

This theory suggests that living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren’t being exposed to germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.11

Other research suggests that the rising rates of asthma may be multi-factoral and, therefore, scientists continue to explore all potential causes of asthma.10 11

The Cost of Childhood Asthma

The growing asthma epidemic among children and young adults has also resulted in heavy economic costs. According to the American Lung Association,  the total annual cost of asthma is approximately $56 billion a year. The annual direct healthcare cost accounts for approximately $50.1 billion while the indirect costs from loss of pay, etc. accounts for $5.9 billion a year.2

Asthma is also the leading cause of missed school days among children ages 5 to 17. In 2013, children in this age group missed approximately 13.8 million school days.12 Since school absences have consistently been associated with poor academic performance and because students suffering from asthma are absent from school more than their counterparts, they are more likely to experience poor academic outcomes associated with absenteeism.13

Research also shows that students who miss school days tend to score lower on standardized tests in reading and math and are more likely to drop out from high school.13 Consequently, working families struggle to cope with children suffering from asthma as every missed day of school means a missed day of work. Since children account for a large percentage of people with asthma, it is likely that working parents are incurring the cost of lost productivity by caring for children who miss school days.5

We face a serious threat to our future economic success due to the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases like asthma among children in this country. If our children are chronically unhealthy in the early years of life, they are unlikely to be productive in the labor force as adults.

Most discussion around the impact of chronic diseases among children has not fully addressed future economic implications. However, this should not be interpreted as a lack of urgency because it is indeed a catastrophe. It is crucial for public health agencies and officials to focus efforts on understanding the root cause of childhood chronic health conditions like asthma before it is too late.


1 Mudell EJ. Rise in Childhood Chronic Illness Could Swamp Health Care. ABC News Jun. 26, 2007.
2 American Lung Association. Asthma and Children Fact Sheet. Lung.org Sept. 2014.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What is Asthma? NIH.gov Aug. 4, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma’s Impact on the NationCDC.gov.
National Academy on An Aging Society. Childhood Asthma: The Most Common Chronic Disease Among Children. AgingSociety.org Jun. 2000.
The Burden of Children’s Asthma: What Asthma Costs Nationally, Locally and Personally. PediatricAsthma.org.
7 CDC. National Current Asthma Prevalence (2014). CDC.gov March 2016.
Pearson W, Goates S, Harrtkissoon S, Miller S. State-Based Medicaid Costs for Pediatric Asthma Emergency Department Visits. Preventing Chronic Disease 2014; 11.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What Causes Asthma? NIH.gov Aug. 4, 2014.
Carlson J, Stroebel C. Childhood Asthma: A Growing American Epidemic. Population Reference Bureau August 2001.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Increasing Rates of Allergies and Asthma. Aaai.org.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma Facts and Figures. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Meng Y, Babey S, Wolstein J. Asthma-Related School Absenteeism and School Concentration of Low-Income Students in California. Preventing Chronic Disease 2012; 9.

9 Responses to The Cost of America’s Childhood Asthma Epidemic

  1. Dorothy Nazarian Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 8:08 am

    What affect does GMO’s and pesticides in this epidemic and has that even been looked into…….food, water, air?

  2. G.L. Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 8:21 am

    My asthma symptoms developed in high school and I struggled with seasonal asthma annually, from May to July, until I was 60. Days were exhausting, struggling with each breath, even though I was using a metered dose inhaler, but nights were even worse. I couldn’t breathe lying down, so I’d try sleeping in a recliner, but even with the a/c on and an air purifier and using my inhaler much more than the recommended dosage, I barely was able to sleep.

    After seeing a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D. versus M.D.) at the age of 60 and carefully following his advice and dietary recommendations, I have not used my inhaler in 3 years. It is now June, there’s yellow pollen covering our cars and deck each morning, and I not only can sleep, I can breathe normally, sing, exercise, etc. I am so thankful!

    The reason we think asthma is a chronic illness is because we don’t understand what is causing inflammation in our bodies. We know our bodies are reacting to allergens, and it’s obvious that it’s affecting our lungs, so we think the allergens are the problem. But that’s only because our bodies are already weakened and under great stress due to our feeding it the wrong foods for years. Once our bodies are inflamed, they can’t deal with the added stress of allergens, and so we wheeze, cough, struggle to breathe, etc. And as the years go on and we keep eating the wrong foods, we only get worse (chronic illness, sometimes ending in death). Through dietary changes (depending on the right foods for your body type–not everyone’s solution is the same) and the right supplements which help repair our body systems, asthma CAN BE HEALED. Please pass this information on so that people you know can get help.

    • Carole Reply

      June 29, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      TO GI, I was wondering if you can tell what Naturepathic doctor you used? My poor Granddaughter suffers badly with Asthma!! I do know that her diet is more than likely causing it to become worse as she is so very picky !! Can you also tell me what exactly was it that this doctor did for you to heal your Asthma?? Thank you so much!! Carole

  3. Alina Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Of course the cause is “unclear” (vaccines). Any time the cause is iatrogenic (vaccines), corporate medicine churns out dozens of manufactured studies that cast doubt of the causes (vaccines) so they can keep pushing the causes (vaccines) and pretend there’s no cure, just a lifelong regimen if marginally effective and dangerous drugs (inhalers, steroids, nebulizers, etc). It’s called a gravy train and they’re not at all interested in stopping it. Too profitable to keep people chronically diseased. That’s why they want to force vaccines in a one-size-fits-all manner upon every man, woman and child on this planet. More vaccines = more chronic “incurable” diseases = MORE PROFITS! Our system is 100% about profit, 0% about creating true health.



    • Kayla Wildman Reply

      June 9, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      Great comment, Alina! You summed it up perfectly. Thank you!

  4. Gyan Millar Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Studies of vaccinated vs nonvaccinated children show a far higher rate of asthma among the vaccinated group. This correlation must be seriously investigated.

  5. David Weiner Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I disagree that “it is crucial for public health agencies and officials to focus efforts on understanding the root cause of childhood chronic health conditions like asthma before it is too late.”

    Yes, it is important to do something about these problems, but if we should have learned anything about the way so-called public health bodies operate, then we are betting on the wrong horse if we want them to address this or any other health problems.

    What we need from the government is for it to stop harming us. Ending the vaccine program. Stop giving bad advice about nutrition and working it into programs like the school lunch program. Stop spraying chemtrails. Stop telling people that GMO’s are safe. Once we have eliminated the government-induced harm, then we can see which problems remain and what to do about them.

  6. Patrick Cronin Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Not even considering the horrific impact on the children,the economic impact on the nation as a whole and it’s LONG term implications for the future of our population DEMAND this to be a priority for federal funding and private research.No Obamacare needed here?

  7. Cinda Wood Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    This is not an unclear cause with the research coming from MIT and other universities like Northwestern where soy, corn and canola causing lung inflammation and can also cause asthma. Of course they did not say that they were all GMO’s but they also did not say they tested organic either. http://allergicliving.com/2014/06/10/soy-corn-and-canola-oils-linked-to-lung-inflammation/

    Someone may also want to study n-glycans and how they are destroyed by the very GMO ingredients. Doctors are growing lungs in the lab using them and thus far the only company I know that sells eight in one bottle but no one can mention online. Since no one can see my name it is Ambrotose. No I don’t sell it but the truth needs desperately to come out about them. I did go to many conferences where doctors spoke until big pharma stopped them.

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