Asthma By The Numbers

Many people in the Bronx suffer from asthma — and it’s even worse in the South Bronx.

With the number of asthmatics averaging 11 to 13 percent of the adult population in 2015 — and reaching up to 17 percent in some corners — the South Bronx is one of the two most asthma-ridden neighborhoods in New York City (together with East New York), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall in New York City, about 10 percent of adults are asthmatic, according to the CDC. And nationwide, 7.5 percent of adults and 8.5 percent of children suffered from persistent asthma in 2015. New York state has consistently been above the national average for at least the past five years.

Left: Asthma prevalence among adults in the US (percentages.) Right: Asthma prevalence among persons under 18 in the US (percentages.) Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Graphics by Cecilia Butini.
CDC data from 2014 (left) and 2015 (right) show the highest crude prevalence of asthma among adults in New York concentrated in the Bronx — and in some areas of Queens. Source: CDC 500 Cities Project.
The South Bronx as defined by the UHF, or United Hospital Fund, Neighborhood Index. Map by Cecilia Butini.

The South Bronx is tucked between three major highways — the Major Deegan, the Bruckner, and the Cross Bronx expressways — and is often named an “island of pollution” by its residents. The problem lies not only in the prevalence of asthma, as shown by CDC data, but also in asthma-related hospitalizations.

According to community health profiles published by the New York City Department of Health in 2015, the South Bronx neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Melrose had three times as many hospitalizations for asthma as the rest of New York City, and 1.5 as many as the rest of the Bronx. While 0.3 percent of children aged 5 to 14 were hospitalized for asthma in New York City in 2013, 0.7 percent were in the Bronx, and 1.2 percent in Mott Haven and Melrose. In the same year, 0.2 percent of asthmatic adults got hospitalized in New York City, 0.5 percent did in the Bronx, and 0.7 in Mott Haven and Melrose.

The New York City Department of Health has used public school records to report that the number of asthmatic children aged 5 to 14 in the Bronx has increased from 2.4 to 3.5 percent from 2010 to 2014. These figures are twice as high as those of city neighborhoods with the lowest prevalence, such as Staten Island and Queens.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Dr. Sunit Jariwala, an allergist and asthma specialist at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. “There is pollution, high pollen concentration, changes in the weather, and then there is susceptible population; the inner city, urban, African-American and Latino population.” Though environmental factors such as pollution, mold, pests, and dust are big asthma triggers, genetics plays a role, too, explained Dr. Jariwala.

For reasons not yet completely understood, asthma patients, in general, are more likely to be African-American or Latino. And in the South Bronx, those two ethnicities make up the majority of the population. Across the different South Bronx neighborhoods, percentages of Hispanic residents range between 59 percent in Morrisania and Crotona to 76 percent in Hunts Point and Longwood. The percentage range of black residents is between 22 and 38, depending on the neighborhood.