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Doctors to study asthma rate in R.I. Hispanics

PROVIDENCE -- A team of Rhode Islanders is using a $6 million health grant to study, among other issues, why Hispanic women in the state appear to have one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation.

Surveys show that 9.2 percent of the state's Hispanics have asthma, compared with 7.1 percent of blacks and 8.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Experts have also found that 10.8 percent of Rhode Island women have asthma versus 5.9 percent of men.

Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine have among the highest asthma rates in the nation, according to the New England Asthma Regional Council.

"More Latinos are treated in emergency rooms, so they're only getting acute treatment, but they're not managing the asthma," said Dr. Gregory Fritz, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital and the leader of the local National Institutes of Health behavioral study of asthma.

Fritz and his team are trying to shed light on why Hispanic Rhode Islanders suffer from asthma more than others, the Providence Journal reported.

Specialists theorize that Hispanics in Rhode Island might have higher rates of asthma because of poverty, genetics, racial bias, and cultural differences.

"One of the reasons minorities, who tend to be housed in urban areas, have higher rates of asthma could be related to dilapidated housing," said Molly Clark, director of environmental health programs for the American Lung Association of Rhode Island. "They also have more exposure to diesel exhaust from idling cars and trucks."

Rhode Island Hispanics have the lowest median family income of all Hispanics in the country, and Rhode Island has the largest percentage of Hispanic children living in poverty in the United States, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Certain asthma triggers, such as cockroach droppings and the fumes produced when using a gas stove for heat, may be more prevalent in poorer neighborhoods, Clark said.

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