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New research: Disparities in respiratory health have persisted or widened in the U.S. in the last 60

Titled “Socioeconomic Inequality in Respiratory Health in the U.S. from 1959 to 2018,” the study isn’t the first to show that lower income and education are associated with respiratory diseases like asthma or poorer lung health. But it’s noteworthy in that it looks at these trends over a long span of time, showing that even though air quality has improved and smoking rates have dropped over the past 60 years, disparities in respiratory health have persisted and the improvements haven’t been equitably enjoyed, according to the study.

Poor lung health reduces quality of life and is associated with an increased risk of death due to disease or harmful exposure, so a widening gap in lung function based on income and education can also mean a widening gap in life expectancy between poorer and richer Americans in the 21st century, the authors write.

“Our lungs can be a mirror of the inequalities in our society and they reflect the hazards that we face because of our [socioeconomic] position,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Adam Gaffney, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cambridge Health Allianceand an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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