Residents of Orlando can breathe a little easier these days, according to the latest compilation of asthma capitals in the United States.
Last year, Orlando was ranked as one of the top 50 cities in the nation considered to be among the most challenging to live in with asthma. However, the central Floridian city has improved its standing, falling from No. 49 in 2014 to No. 64 in the 2015 report, Asthma Capitals, recently released by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
In fact, every city in Florida improved its position on this annual list that most communities would prefer not to find themselves on, especially being ranked near the top. Here’s how the other cities in Florida changed their positions from last year to this year:
- Jacksonville was No. 20 in 2014, now No. 25
- Tampa was No. 50, now No. 54
- Lakeland was No. 55, now No. 58
- Miami was No. 58, now No. 61
- Daytona Beach was No. 64, now No. 77
- Sarasota was No. 75, now No. 93
- Cape Coral was No. 82, now No. 94
- Palm Bay was No. 76, now No. 95
This year’s list, like most of the previous annual rankings, tends to be crowded with cities located in the South. The compilation contains six southern cities in the top 10, including Memphis, Tenn., and Richmond, Va., which claimed the unwanted No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, on the list.
Florida, like so many other states in the Deep South, faces some unique challenges, noted Jordan Smallwood, MD, who practices in the Division of Rheumatology/Allergy/Immunology in the Department of Pediatrics at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando.
“The big risk factors for worsening asthma include tobacco smoke exposure, obesity, and air quality,” Smallwood said. “Studies have also shown that individuals living below the poverty line have an increased risk of developing asthma. As Florida continues to work to reduce these risk factors, we continue to see improvements in asthma control, as evidenced by the recent AAFA polls.”
The weather can also impact the lives of some of those with asthma or allergies, especially in the South, he added.
“Some patients feel that the heat and humidity of Florida play a role in their asthma - some for better and others for worse,” Smallwood said.
Asthma efforts working
The latest numbers appear to provide some encouraging evidence that the steps Florida’s healthcare community has taken recently to improve medical services for those who suffer with asthma and allergies are working.
Until recently, Florida was moving in the wrong direction.
From 2000 to 2010, lifetime asthma prevalence among adults in Florida increased by 52 percent, and asthma-related hospitalizations statewide rose by more than 32 percent. Between 2006 and 2012, the lifetime asthma prevalence among middle and high school students in the state increased by 21 percent.
But then Florida became one of 36 states selected to receive funding and technical support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Asthma Control Program, and the state established the Florida Asthma Program in 2009. Prior to this, the state had no systematic approach to state and local asthma surveillance, yet 15 percent of county health departments listed asthma as a priority health issue.
Now with the CDC’s support, the program has developed a comprehensive system for asthma data-gathering that provides easy, round-the-clock access to the latest county-specific asthma data, providing communities with information to better develop local Asthma Action Plans.
Medical community responds
Additional efforts to combat asthma are also being made by the state of Florida and the medical community in the Sunshine State.
“Eliminating or reducing smoke exposure is important in asthma control and Florida has improved in their attempts to help control this statewide," Smallwood said. “Depending on your source, the current adult smoking rate in Florida is 15-20 percent. The Florida Department of Health reported that in 2014, the rate of smoking of adolescents, ages 11-17, was down to 4.3 percent. Obviously we'd love to get that number down to zero, but Florida has taken some strong steps.”
He also noted that the medical profession is actively supporting these initiatives.
“I think the smoking bans and efforts to reduce smoking have always had the support and approval of doctors and hospitals behind them,” Smallwood added. “Hospitals are also always trying to battle obesity as well. If you look at the measures going on to reduce obesity and encourage exercise, almost of every one of them has the backing of some medical organization or a local hospital.
“You will also see the medical community holding a lot of events at which they talk to families about what asthma symptoms might look like, and what they can do to better treat their asthma. All these things go a long way to improve patient education and patient health.”
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: http://aafa.org/
Asthma Capitals 2015: http://www.asthmacapitals.com/
Florida Department of Health: http://www.floridahealth.gov/
Nemours Children’s Health System: http://www.nemours.org