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Asthma is a potentially life-threatening respiratory condition and one of the top ten leading chronic diseases afflicting the working population in the United States.ii It is characterized by inflammation and constriction of the airways in reaction to allergens or irritants that are inhaled into the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.iii Too many adults and children suffer needlessly from asthma, resulting in a heavy burden for employers and employees alike. Every day in the U.S., about 43,000 people miss work and school due to uncontrolled symptoms, and even more adults stay home from work to care for children too sick with asthma to go to school.iv
The good news is that with proper medical care and medications, quality education to help people manage their disease, and supplies and services to reduce environmental triggers, adults and children with asthma can thrive. People once unable to sleep, work or play can return to their jobs and to school, thus reducing both the human and the financial costs associated with their disease. Over the last decade, numerous scientific studies and program evaluations have shown that a combination of interventions tailored to the individual can bring asthma under control cost-effectively.v
The gap between the potential for asthma to be well-controlled, and the reality for thousands of people, is an enormous opportunity for employers and their employees. Three primary strategies, combining traditional human resources with workplace safety and health functions, can reduce the burden of asthma among employees and their dependents. These strategies hold promise for positive returns on investment via direct cost savings to the employer, as well as reduced rates of both absenteeism and compromised productivity at work:
Polly Hoppin is a Research Professor, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Program Director for Environmental Health at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts Lowell. Molly Jacobs is an epidemiologist and Project Manager in the Environmental Health Program, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts Lowell. Laurie Stillman is Director of the Public Health Policy and Strategy Center at Health Resources in Action and former Executive Director of the Asthma Regional Council of New England.
iHoppin P, et al. Asthma: A Business Case for Employers and Health Care Purchasers. Asthma Regional Council and University of Massachusetts Lowell, February 2010.
iiGoetzel RZ, et al. Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and medical health conditions affecting U.S. employers. J Occup Environ Med. 2004; 46:398-412.
iiiCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma: Basic Information. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm
ivAkinbami LJ, et al. Asthma prevalence, health care use, and mortality: United States 2005-2009. National Health Statistics Reports. US Dept. of Health & Human Services, National Ctr. for Health Statistics. Jan 12, 2011.
vHoppin P, et al. Investing in Best Practices for Asthma: A Business Case. August 2010 Update. Asthma Regional Council and University of Massachusetts Lowell, 2010.
viUS Dept. of Health & Human Services, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 2007.
viiHoppin P, et al. Insurance Coverage for Asthma: A Value and Quality Checklist. Asthma Regional Council and University of Massachusetts Lowell, 2010.
viiiTarlo SM, et al. Diagnosis and management of work-related asthma. Chest. 2008; 134:1S-41S.
CPH-NEW, a Center for Excellence to Promote a Healthier Workforce of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is a joint initiative of the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the University of Connecticut. CPH-News & Views is a semi-monthly column written by Center researchers on emerging topics related to healthy workplaces. These comments reflect thoughts of the individual researchers and do not represent conclusive research summaries, nor do they necessarily reflect a consensus among all Center personnel. We welcome your responses and discussion. Please send all questions and comments to CPHNEW@uml.edu.
CPH News and Views Issue 23
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