Disparities in asthma prevalence: The influence of sociodemographic and workplace factors

Michelle Karpman McHugh, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Asthma is a serious and continuing health problem that affects millions of Americans. Our study was conducted in response to this serious health problem and for purposes of addressing the issue of potential health disparities as outlined in Healthy People 2010. Data from sub-populations of subjects who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999-2004 were used to complete the following specific aims: (1) to update nationally-based estimates of the prevalence of current and lifetime (ever) asthma among adults in the United States (U.S.) and describe by gender the relationships between potential risk factors (e.g., sociodemographics and lifestyle) and asthma; (2) to describe demographic characteristics among working adults in the U.S. and update estimates of the prevalence of asthma in this sub-population, stratified by occupation and industry; and 3) to determine the utility of adapting a population-based Job Exposure Matrix (JEM) for classifying workplace exposures to asthmagens. Our findings suggest the prevalence of asthma among U.S. adults is continuing to rise, with women having a higher prevalence of asthma than men. Living below the poverty threshold, obesity, and prior history of smoking remain important determinants of asthma. Our study also adds to the increasing evidence that health care workers (HCWs) and those employed in education remain at high risk and that appropriate evaluation and control measures need to be implemented. Over 78% of HCWs and 71% of teachers in our study were females suggesting that further exploration of gender-specific risk factors of asthma in working populations is needed. Our study also addressed the feasibility of adapting a population-based asthma-specific JEM to NHANES (1999-2004). We were not able to apply the asthma-specific JEM due to the broad occupational categories within NHANES. This represents a missed opportunity to examine the association between workplace exposures and asthma in U.S. working adults. However, we have identified steps that may be implemented in future population-based studies that would allow the asthma-specific JEM (and other population-based job exposure matrices) to be used in future studies of the U.S. working population.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

McHugh, Michelle Karpman, "Disparities in asthma prevalence: The influence of sociodemographic and workplace factors" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3366386.