PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Asthma disproportionately affects people of color and a new study sheds light on how poverty and discrimination might impact how people of color access health care to treat their asthma. 

For the study, Oregon Health & Science University researchers analyzed health data for more than 41,000 children in 18 U.S. states between 2012 and 2018. It built on research that had been done previously and found that asthma-related emergency department use is highest among people of color. 

Researchers from OHSU said given the earlier findings, they weren’t surprised when their data analysis showed Spanish-speaking Latino children are more likely than white children to receive acute asthma care at community health centers. These centers are local, federally supported clinics that offer health care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. 

The data also showed that non-Hispanic Black children were more likely than their white peers to receive asthma care at emergency departments. Researchers said they’re uncertain if this is because of increased need for emergency care or as a result of lack of access to primary care. 

What researchers didn’t expect to discover was that Black children received asthma care at community health centers less often than Latino children. The analysis also showed Latino children were more likely to receive preventative asthma care at community health clinics, which could help them rely less on emergency departments. 

As a result of the study, the researchers hypothesize that the complex effects of poverty and discrimination might affect health care access for patients of various races and ethnicities. 

Jorge Kaufmann, N.D., M.S, is an OHSU biostatistician and the first author of the study. He said he and his colleagues found that 73% of the Black children in the study lived far enough below the federal poverty line to be eligible for Medicaid, compared with about 56% for Latino children.

Kafmann said this could explain the asthma care disparities the study revealed. 

“It may not be just the cost of the health care that contributes to poor health outcomes,” Kaufmann said. “There are likely other aspects of poverty that affect the ability of patients to take advantage of health care services.” 

The researchers know Black adults have reported previous discriminatory experiences that can prevent them from seeking health care services. This study suggests community health centers may have room for improvement when it comes to providing a welcoming, supportive space for diverse patients. 

OHSU said further research is needed to better understand the cause of racial disparities. Kaufmann and his colleagues plan to determine if there are similar asthma care disparities among adults and to see if there are differences in the way patients who were born in different countries receive asthma care. 

The OSU study was recently published by the Annals of Family Medicine. It’s the first to show long-term disparities based on race, ethnicity and spoken languages at various health care settings.