Visualizing the 1 in 10 living with asthma
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Profile photo of Kerri MacKay

I know instinctually now that 10% of Canadians live with asthma–your country’s statistic may vary. But I’ve never thought about how that number applies to my own city. The other day, I was boarding a flight in Minneapolis, when the gate agent mentioned how bad his asthma and allergies had been lately to another agent. I just smiled—I, at that point, couldn’t think of a way to quickly “out” myself to him.

Based on the data of the 2016 Census, its likely that 70,524 people in my hometown live with asthma. If I take a bus with, at minimum, 46 other people on it, 4 or 5 of them are likely to have asthma. Last week I did a goalball demo for my friend’s Girl Guide group, where one of her nine kids tossed an inhaler to the side of the room before she started playing. When I worked at a daycare capped at 50 children, often at least 5 and as many of 7 children had asthma–among our staff of 8 or 9, I was the only one.

I’ve taken the time to apply the statistic to classes I’ve taught about asthma (grade 11 students), and even the kids at the daycare. But applying them in a more broad, general sense to my city, to public transit, to my family even (a typical family gathering has 18  or so of us present – two of us, myself and my grandma, have asthma for sure, although my cousin’s husband may also as well, which messes up our statistic fun ;)), is an interesting way to see just how many people in my immediate world likely have asthma. What about the Starbucks line? I may be the only person in a 10 person line, statistically speaking, with asthma, but what about if you add those working behind the counter? Or those already settled at tables with their beverages? Or at the drive thru?

The 1 in 10 (or 1 in 14) of us with asthma aren’t that obvious. Maybe you’ll see the odd inhaler clipped to a backpack, or peeking out of someone’s jeans pocket (or, if you’re me, being dropped out of my pocket on the sidewalk somehow). But really, that’s often it. I used to get excited, back in the day (AKA 2012) about spying someone’s Fitbit Ultra on their jeans pocket and wanting to become Fitbit friends, and look, people keep their inhalers more under wraps than their inconspicuous Fitbit (back before the wrist worn ones even existed). So even if we can’t “look” for asthma, even though it’s tough to see us “in the wild” as I call it, we are out there.

We might not go out of our way to “out” ourselves as asthmatics, nor may we actively seek out the asthmatics around us. But even though I hate to think of people having to live with this disease, it’s kind of cool to know that within some sort of radius, there are likely to be other people with asthma floating about—hopefully owning it as best they can.

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