published September 1, 2005

SENCER E-Newsletter, September 2005, Volume 5, Issue 1

SSI 2005 Caucus Proposes SENCER Course Focused on Clinical, Environmental, and Sociopolitical Aspects of Asthma

At SSI 2005, we organized caucuses to consider the application of SENCER ideals and materials to new topical areas and themes. These discussions were a new feature at the Institute designed to facilitate the development of faculty affiliations, collaborations, and working groups. One of the caucuses considered asthma, a complex medical problem that involves a number of civic issues.

Caucus co-leaders Marion Fass (Beloit College) and Dennis Lehman (Harold Washington College) met with Earle Adams (University of Montana), John Emert (Ball State University), John Haden (Harold Washington College), Heide Hlawaty (Metropolitan College of New York), Dave Jones (Big Sky High School), Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh (University of Maine), Jacqueline Scahill (Ithaca College), Diana Vanek (University of Montana) and Tony Ward (University of Montana) to explore the development of SENCER courses and campus-community programs focused on asthma.

Why Study Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects over 20 million Americans. Asthma is a multi-factorial disease with genetic, allergic, environmental, infectious, emotional, and nutritional components. Even mild asthma can be life-threatening, with more than 5,000 deaths from asthma annually. However, with proper treatment, asthma can be managed.

Why is Asthma a Civic Issue?

Asthma can be considered a civic issue from a variety of perspectives. Through the lens of health disparities, asthma disproportionately effects minority and vulnerable populations. Inner-city disadvantaged and minority children appear to be at greater risk of respiratory illness, especially asthma. The asthma prevalence rate African Americans was 38% higher than the rate in whites and asthma is 26% more prevalent in African American children than in white children. Asthma rates are also significantly higher among Hispanics and Native Americans than whites. Because asthma is linked to a variety of environmental factors, including air pollutants and second-hand smoke, asthma can be viewed through the lens of health policy and environmental justice. Finally, one cannot consider asthma without taking into account the vast economic consequences including lost school time (see Table 1 on page 7.) Asthma accounts for approximately 14.5 million missed work days for adults and millions in direct and indirect health care costs annually.

What Would a SENCER Asthma Course Look Like?

The group proposed the development of courses that examine the asthma issue from multiple perspectives - clinical, environmental, and socio/political. Participant Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh said of the idea, "This would be a great course to team teach with a clinician and environmental scientist...Service learning/civic engagement opportunities would be limitless—from working with school nurses and public health officials, to collecting and analyzing air samples with environmental protection agencies."

The caucus developed the following overarching goal for a SENCER asthma course: "Students will be able to integrate knowledge of the medical aspects of asthma, the environmental factors that increase its prevalence, and the social issues that exacerbate it to devise strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Students will be able to apply similar approaches to the study of complex diseases to envision personal, community and environmental strategies for their control." (The caucus developed Table 2 on page 7 to depict course content, topics, and activities.)

Asthma resources

Table 1. Economic Cost of Asthma, Direct and Indirect Expenditures, US, 2002

Asthma Cost

Table 2.Designing a SENCER Asthma Course

Asthma Table