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This background paper examines the dimensions of the recent asthma epidemic and what could be done to contain it. Information about the prevalence and consequences of asthma across demographic groups is presented. Factors that impede the control of asthma are also identified. The paper also examines the possible causes of asthma and the asthma epidemic as well as new theories about the relationship of asthma to overall advances in health care and economic development. It also discusses the economic implications of asthma and possible cost avoidances linked to better asthma management. The paper concludes with discussions of asthma and public health, including weaknesses in surveillance for the disease and the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS's) plans for addressing asthma as articulated in Healthy People 2010 and Action Against Asthma, the agency's strategic plan for asthma.

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