June 10, 1998
Jackie Joyner-Kersee won an Olympic gold medal in track. Bob
Gibson was a
Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher. And Dominique Wilkins was an NBA basketball
What do all these great athletes have in common? They suffered
but learned to control it so that they could grow up to be champions.
Asthma is the most common chronic medical problem our children
Each year, 150,000 children are hospitalized with asthma at a total cost of
$1.9 billion in medical expenses. The condition also keeps kids home from
school more than anything else -- a total of 10 million school days are
According to a recent report from the federal Centers for Disease
Prevention, between 1980 and 1994, the incidence of asthma increased an
astonishing 160 percent for children under 5 -- and an alarming 70
Fifteen million Americans -- 5 million of them children -- suffer
episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, tightness of the chest and coughing
characterize asthma. Last year, more than 5,000 died.
Unfortunately, the cause of asthma is not clearly understood, and
know all the reasons more people are suffering and symptoms appear more
than they did 10 years ago. One likely factor, however, is the environment.
Poor air quality has been linked to many respiratory ailments, including
That's why last summer the President announced the toughest
action in a
generation to protect children from air pollution. New standards for smog and
soot will safeguard millions of Americans in urban areas, including 35
children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air. Each
year, these standards should prevent 350,000 new cases of asthma.
Asthma strikes children wherever they live, but it hits the
children of our
cities the hardest. In New York City, for example, children are hospitalized
at four times the national rate.
We have to remember that children are not merely little adults. Pound for
pound, they drink more fluids, eat more food and breathe more air than
Young children crawl on floors covered with dust, cleaning fluids and other
harsh chemicals. Older ones spend more time outdoors, where they're
pollutants in the air and on the ground.
In order to protect our children from unsafe water, food and air, the
President signed an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to safeguard
children from environmental health and safety risks. No longer will
governmental agencies set air, water or food quality standards without taking
the special threat to children into consideration.
As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner reminds us,
"When we take steps to protect our children, we are taking steps to protect
Another environmental hazard to our children is secondary smoke.
percent of America's children live in a house where one or more adults smoke.
No adult -- and certainly no parent -- should smoke around young children.
As in most pediatric hospitals in the country, asthma is the most common
reason children are admitted to the Children's National Medical Center
Washington. Recently, I toured CNMC's "Room 8," a section of the emergency
room designed specifically to treat children with asthma. Because so many
parents don't have access to a primary care physician, and many are not
properly educated on the early recognition signs of an attack, CNMC has a
demand for asthma-related emergency care. Of the 48,000 emergency room visits
last year, 25 percent were due to asthma.
"Sesame Street's" Elmo went to CNMC with me to visit the patients and talk
about his new Muppet friend, Dani, who has asthma. Elmo and Dani are part
new Sesame Street educational kit that will help children, parents and
caregivers understand and cope with asthma.
We also talked about another effort designed to help parents get the
information they need to help manage their children's asthma -- the Ozone
Mapping Project. For the first time, levels of ozone concentration -- a
particular risk for asthmatics -- will be reported daily on weather
and on the Internet (at
Taken together, these efforts signify important steps in our nation's battle
to combat the problem of asthma and ensure a cleaner and healthier
for all our children.
Although we do not fully understand asthma, we do know how to help prevent
and manage it. By keeping parents and caretakers informed about asthma and
what to do about it, and by helping communities improve the environment
them, we will continue to make progress so that all our children can grow up
to be champions.
COPYRIGHT 1998 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED