Feb. 5, 2009 -- A new study of students in Dallas inner-city schools shows that students with asthma do not miss school more than students without asthma. This marks a change from past studies that have attributed many absences to asthma.
For this most recent study, published in Chest, researchers analyzed absences for children with asthma. The children, who were in fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, attended 19 schools in the Dallas Independent School District. Researchers compared the absence rates of children with asthma to fourth- through sixth-grade absence rates at the 19 schools and to absence rates district-wide.
All absence rates were between 2% and 3%. The study authors conclude, “In the DISD, children with asthma do not miss more school days than their peers without asthma.”
The study's authors say there could be several possible explanations for the results. One is that the overall management of childhood asthma improved between the last study (done in 1995) and the current study (done in 2003). This improvement could be attributed to the acceptance of NAEPP (National Asthma Education and Prevention Program) guidelines by the medical community, authors say.
Also, the method by which children were identified as having asthma may have affected results. Past studies have relied on self-reported asthma and asthma identified by school nurses. This study screened a large pool of students with lung function tests, thereby identifying a larger number of students with asthma. The absence rates of the students with abnormal lung function tests vs. healthy students in the 19 schools and the entire district were not significantly different.
Another important note: More than 90% of schools in the Dallas Independent School District have their own full-time registered nurses. These nurses prepare asthma management plans for every child known to have asthma and provide urgent care during school hours for children with symptomatic asthma.
As part of the conclusion, the authors argue that school nurse salaries are money well spent. “Allocation of limited school resources to school nurse salaries may be more cost-effective and produce better asthma control outcomes than district-wide efforts at testing for asthma,” they write.