Author(s): Chen JT, Krieger N, Van Den Eeden SK, Quesenberry CP
Although allergic diseases such as asthma and hay fever are a major cause of morbidity in industrialized countries, most studies have focused on patterns of prevalence among children and adolescents, with relatively few studies on variations in prevalence by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic position among adults. Our study examined racial/ethnic and socioeconomic patterns in the prevalence of asthma overall, asthma with hay fever, asthma without hay fever, and hay fever overall, in a population of 173,859 women and men in a large prepaid health plan in northern California. Using education as a measure of socioeconomic position, we found evidence of a positive gradient for asthma with hay fever with increasing level of education but an inverse gradient for asthma without hay fever. Hay fever was also strongly associated with education. Compared with their White counterparts, Black women and men were more likely to report asthma without hay fever, and Black women were less likely to have asthma with hay fever. Asian men were also more likely to report asthma with hay fever, and Asian women and men were much more likely to have hay fever. Racial/ethnic disparities in prevalence of allergic diseases were largely independent of education. We discuss implications for understanding these social inequalities in allergic disease risk in relation to possible differences in exposure to allergens and determinants of immunologic susceptibility and suggest directions for future research.