A March 2023 report by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology states that environmental injustice, which includes substandard housing, higher exposure to pollutants, higher exposure to violence and psychological stress, and other factors, is the major cause of health disparities and the higher prevalence of allergies in people of color.
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) recently published its report for the year 2023 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It states that data clearly show a higher prevalence of various allergic disorders in specific racial groups, like Blacks. These groups also experience disproportionately high levels of allergies. This is due to a so-called “double hit,” meaning lower socioeconomic status and environmental injustice. As a result, already vulnerable groups are also more likely to be exposed to hazardous pollutants that cause health issues like allergies.
Systemic Racism and Environmental Injustice Major Reasons for Higher Allergies in Specific Population Groups
The committee cited sound evidence of health disparities. Blacks are almost two times more likely to have asthma and two to three times more likely to have ED visits. They are also more likely to have allergic rhinitis, and such conditions tend to be more severe in deprived groups. The same applies to eczema (atopic dermatitis) and other allergic diseases.
The report indicates that genetics should not be blamed for these disparities. Studies show that 95% of human genetic diversity occurs within population groups, meaning that genetic variability between various races or ethnic groups is not a significant contributor to health disparities. Therefore, race should be viewed as a social construct, not a biological one.
Significant environmental injustice is one of the most important reasons for higher rates of allergies in ethnic minorities in the United States, who experience greater psychological stress, higher reported levels of adverse childhood experiences of racial discrimination, and more. Low-income families and people of color are more likely to live in poorly built environments with fewer green spaces and higher levels of industrial pollution. Ethnic minorities are more likely to live near hazardous facilities and to live in poor housing compared to White people. These factors are made worse by poor diet, inferior access to healthcare, and less access to pollution-free green spaces.
The Bottom line
This report identified several knowledge gaps, including an understanding of the extent to which exposure to environmental hazards contributes to health disparities. There is also a need for future research to account for environmental and other contextual factors that determine the distribution of allergic disease burden. Based on these findings, there is a need to identify community-level interventions that are more effective for specific population groups. Finally, there is also a need to study the long-term impact of exposure to environmental pollutants and their impact on later life.
Burbank, A. J., Hernandez, M., Jefferson, A. A., Perry, T. T., Phipatanakul, W., Poole, J., & Matsui, E. C. (2023). Environmental justice and allergic disease: A Work Group Report of the AAAAI Environmental Exposure and Respiratory Health Committee and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 151(3), 656–670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2022.11.025