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Systemic racism plays key role in why Black children have a higher re-admission rate for asthma and diabetes, studies find

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Natalie Jenkins Photo
Cincinnati Children's
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center Endrocrinologist Dr. Nana-Hawa Yayah Jones sees a patient.

To combat these socio-economic factors, Children's has established a health equity network.

Two independent studies at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center came to the same conclusion: that systemic racism plays a key role into why Black kids have a much higher rate of re-admission for asthma and Type 1 diabetes.

Geneticist Tesfaye Mersha, Ph.D. looked at data from 700 asthma patients and discovered 80% of the 134 children re-admitted within a year were Black.

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Tesfaye Mersha
Cincinnati Children's Geneticist Tesfaye Mersha, PhD, studied the disparities between blacks and white kids for asthma.

Even though genetic factors do play a role, he says they can’t account for this high an average. “Racism, I would say, is making this big difference in terms of current health care access and all the other things mentioned in our publication,” says Mersha. His research is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Mersha determined there are more than two dozen socio-environmental factors at play, including how far the patient lives from a highway and whether their family has a car.

Systemic racism also driving up complications from diabetes

Dr. Nana-Hawa Yayah Jones says there is no difference in the way she treats her patients, yet at Cincinnati Children’s, 400 kids with Type 1 diabetes were admitted to the hospital to treat a dangerous complication known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Black children made up 41% of the admissions even though they were just 25% of Children’s population.

Her study was published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, August 18, 2021.

“We found that if you lived in high poverty areas, you identified as Black, or you had public insurance, each was associated with a higher risk of hospitalization for DKA even when we adjusted it,” says Yayah Jones.

She thinks there isn’t a single disease that hasn’t been touched by inequity.

Children’s Hospital recognizes that and has established a health equity network to identify where gaps exists and targets for intervention.