Asthma is not only one of the most widespread chronic diseases nationally, affecting nearly 26 million Americans, but it also disproportionately affects poor and minority children. To culminate Asthma Awareness Month, U.S. agencies on Thursday presented the “Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities” in Washington, D.C.

Several keynote speakers — including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius — discussed findings on asthma inequalities across socioeconomic lines, strategies to improve care for at-risk children, and how government and community partners will better collaborate to eliminate previous barriers to respiratory disease prevention.

“The bottom line is that every child should grow up in a healthy environment,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “This is too broad for one agency to tackle alone. The Action Plan is aimed at getting the right care with the right support to the people that need it most — the children.”

Among numbers announced by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, asthma affects 16.5 percent of Puerto Rican and 16 percent of African-American children, with the latter twice as likely to be hospitalized and four times likelier to die from asthma as white children. The annual economic cost directly related to asthma is approximately $56 billion, and its incidence leads to 10.5 million missed school days per year.

The plan calls for action with strategies that will “begin immediately and be overseen by the Asthma Disparities Working Group,” according to the EPA, including steps to:

  • Reduce barriers to the implementation of guidelines-based asthma management;
  • Enhance capacity to deliver integrated, comprehensive asthma care to children in communities with racial and ethnic asthma disparities;
  • Improve capacity to identify the children most impacted by asthma disparities; and
  • Accelerate efforts to identify and test interventions that may prevent the onset of asthma among ethnic and racial minority children.

“We’re all voices in the decisions that affect the health of our environment,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Last August, 17 federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding, among other things, developing environmental justice strategies. Last February, federal agencies published implementation plans. .. The Obama administration takes seriously our role as stewards of the environment.”

Recent preventative measures have made significant impact, said EPA spokesperson Gina McCarthy, who cited the Clean Air Act as the deterrence of more than 1.7 million incidences of asthma attacks in 2010.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan heralded other asthma preventative measures, including federal smoke-free housing policies in Boston; Dallas; Minneapolis; San Antonio; and all of Maine.

“What works best is an all-of-the-above approach,” Sebelius said. “After all, you can get care for asthma in a doctor’s office but it won’t do much good if we don’t know how to address it at school. We know we have a lot more work to do but we’re pleased to be here together and recognized that by taking action together, we can make a huge difference.”