Science and Policy: Working together to improve childhood asthma

Childhood asthma is a major problem that affects the quality of life among children of all ages. Many school-based programs have shown promise in helping to ease burdens associated with asthma, but are often limited by lack of funding, resources and time. In response, institutionalizing successful practices—via changes in public policy—at the local, state and federal levels can be an effective approach for sustaining programs and improving asthma outcomes among children. In an article recently published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, J. Lynn and colleagues present the science behind changing public policy and suggest how clinical researchers can play a critical role in effecting policy changes that will help reduce the incidence and severity of asthma.

The authors of this study reviewed literature from multiple sources, including peer-reviewed articles, books, and reports from governments, academics, non-profits and national associations. The research focused on understanding the policy options available for improving asthma management in school settings, identifying cases where policy has played a key role in sustaining successful strategies, and describing the stages of the policy process in order to facilitate greater engagement in public policy by researchers.

The authors found that while many schools have attempted asthma programs, they often have difficulty implementing and sustaining them due to limited financial resources, human capital, time, and proper communication strategies. Despite these difficulties, the literature also reveals specific school districts and states that have been able to sustain successful school asthma management programs—as the result of public policy changes. The literature provides a comprehensive list of policy options recommended by the American Lung Association (ALA) and the Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), as well as the percent of States that have adopted them (when possible). Finally, the study explores the stages of the policy process in the context of asthma management in schools, which includes identifying the problem, examining policy options, passage of the policy, implementing the policy, and evaluating the outcomes of the policy. The authors suggest that several key ingredients are necessary for policy change, including strong partnerships between stakeholders. Lastly, the authors suggest that researchers with expertise in childhood asthma can fill a critical gap by examining the health outcomes associated with different policy options.

Acknowledging the barriers researchers may face when engaging in public policy issues, this article highlights the need for more participation by clinical researchers, while making the overall process of policy change more transparent, and outlining specific ways researchers can offer their expertise.  

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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