Poor Americans More Likely to Have Breathing Problems, Study Finds
But that has radically changed. In the 2017-2018 survey period, current and former smoking rates among the richest fell by almost half to 34% – while rates among the poorest increased slightly to 57, 9%.
Although smoking is an acquired habit, people with lower incomes may be more likely to use tobacco to cope with the stress of poverty, said Dr Gaffney. Tobacco advertising often targets low-income communities and the density of tobacco shops is higher in poor neighborhoods, according to the authors of a commentary accompanying the study. Poor people may also have more limited access to smoking cessation programs and alternative therapies, they said.
“We increasingly see tobacco addiction as a disease,” said Dr. Sarath Raju, assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the commenters. “Individual responsibility is important, but without proper treatment and access to treatment to help you quit, it’s a challenge.”
Among children, asthma rates increased in all income groups after 1980, but increased more sharply among children in poorer households. There was little difference in asthma rates in young children aged 6 to 11 before 1980, which ranged between 3% and 4%. But in 2017-18, rates among the poor rose to 14.8%, compared to 6.8% among children from the richest families. (A similar trend appeared among adults; statistical adjustments for smoking only slightly reduced the differences.)
In low-income adults, rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an inflammatory lung disease, have long been higher than in wealthier people. But the rates rose, widening the gap, with the prevalence among the poorest Americans rising from 10.4% to 16.3%, even as the rate remained stable at 4.4% among the richest. .
Between 1959 and 2019, the poorest and least educated adults consistently reported more troubling respiratory symptoms, such as difficult breathing, than the wealthier, more educated people. For some symptoms, like having a cough problem, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened over time.
Wheezing rates fell for high-income and more educated groups, but remained stable in poor and less-educated groups, according to the study.