July 28, 2006

Special ed students may have high asthma rates

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - One in three special education
students in New York City public schools has asthma, compared
to just one in five in the general school population, a new
study shows.

"That's a huge number" -- it may be that many children in
special education are there because they have asthma, co-author
Dr. Luz Claudio of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New
York City told Reuters Health. "Managing that disease
successfully may remove them from special education."

The percentage of kids with asthma in special education was
as high as 60 percent in some schools, she added.

Low-income urban children are known to be at greater risk
of having their asthma under poor control, Claudio noted. "It's
a manageable chronic disease," she added, but "our findings
show that a lot of kids from this group are not well managed."

To investigate whether there might be a relationship
between having asthma and being in special education classes,
Claudio and her colleague Jeanette A. Stingone surveyed 24
randomly chosen New York City public elementary schools via
parent questionnaires.

On average, 34 percent of students in special education
classes had asthma, compared with 19 percent of children in the
general school population. The researchers estimated that
children with asthma had a 60 percent increased risk of being
in special education compared with children without the

Claudio and Stingone also found that children with asthma
who were in special education classes were more likely to be
low-income and were three times more likely to have been
hospitalized for asthma in the past year, compared to children
with asthma in regular classes.

Asthmatic in special education were also half as likely to
use a peak flow meter (a device that helps patients control
asthma by monitoring their lung function) and 15 percent less
likely to use a spacer, a device that delivers asthma
medication to the lungs.

However, it was not exactly clear why the asthma rates were
higher among special education students. While absenteeism due
to illness could be one explanation, Claudio noted, the
children in the current study with asthma who were in special
education classes did not have significantly more school
absences than the asthmatic children in regular classes.

"Because children spend so much of their time in school,
there is an opportunity for public health interventions during
the school day aimed at improving asthma control among children
who are at risk or already experience learning difficulties,"
the researchers write in the September issue of the American
Journal of Public Health.

They are currently evaluating the effectiveness of an
asthma management program based at a school in East Harlem, a
neighborhood with one of the nation's highest rates of
childhood asthma.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, September 2006.