Foundation President Endorses House Asthma and Allergy Bill

January 9, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan bill intended to close gaps in the care of public school students with asthma and food allergies is “an important step” in promoting the health of the 11.5 million American children who suffer from these conditions, an expert on the issue told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, was testifying in support of H.R. 2468, the School-Based Allergies and Asthma Management Program Act, before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health.

H.R. 2468, which was introduced by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D.-Md., and Rep. Dr. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., would create a preference in the Centers for Disease Control’s asthma grant program for states that require all public elementary and secondary schools to take concrete steps to address asthma and food allergies.

These steps include having a nurse or other trained individual who can administer asthma or allergy medication onsite during all operating hours, and a comprehensive school-based allergies and asthma management program.

These programs would identify all students with asthma or allergies; establish individual action plans; educate school staff; reduce environmental triggers of allergies and asthma; and coordinate the management of allergies and asthma with families and primary care providers.

“Parents should have peace of mind that their children’s schools are equipped to handle an asthma attack or an allergic reaction,” Rep. Hoyer said when the bill was introduced last May. “This legislation will help by encouraging more schools around the country to have the proper training and planning in place.”

Rep. Roe predicted the Act “will help school personnel and parents ensure students with asthma adequately manage their condition so they can focus on their education with peace of mind.”

On Wednesday, Mendez told the House panel that asthma is the most common chronic disease among children and a major cause of childhood disability.

Citing National Center for Health Statistics data, Mendez said approximately 1-in-13 children have asthma today. In 2018, he continued, 8 percent of children aged 5 to 11 were living with asthma, while 9.9 percent of those 12 to 17 were doing so.

“Asthma disproportionately affects children from low-income families,” he said. “Poor children are more likely to have asthma, less likely to be able to manage symptoms, more likely to visit the emergency department, and more likely to be admitted to the hospital due to an uncontrolled episode.

 “In 2018, the asthma prevalence for children in poverty was 10 percent; the rate among children not in poverty was 6 percent,” he added.

When it comes to food allergies, Mendez said today more than  5.6 million children in the U.S. are estimated to have them, and approximately 40 percent of children with a food allergy are allergic to more than one food.

The CDC reports that since 1997, food allergy prevalence among children has increased by 50 percent, with peanut allergies more than tripling in prevalence. More recent data indicate that prevalence has continued to rise over the past decade.

“Childhood food allergies have serious impacts on health and wellbeing,” Mendez said. “A severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, can be fatal if epinephrine treatment is not administered within minutes.

Schools can play an enormous role in supporting children’s health, “however, there are still too many gaps in care and attention,” Mendez said.

“All parents want to send their kids to school knowing that they will be safe, healthy, and ready to learn. H.R. 2468 will help ensure this is a reality for more children and families managing asthma and food allergies,” he said.

“AAFA is grateful for the subcommittee’s consideration of this bill, and stands ready to help in any way,” Mendez added.

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