Asthma can lead to stigmatization of young athletes

Monday, September 10, 2018

Children with asthma are at increased risk of stigmatization, according to a study at the University of Waterloo.

The study identifies the need for educating coaches when it comes to addressing the inclusion and management of athletes with asthma. 

“We have found that some coaches don’t fully understand the nature of asthma so kids can end up feeling stigmatized,” said Francesca Cardwell, PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo. “Most coaches will say that they understand asthma and are inclusive, but we know from other work that some kids report that their symptoms are questioned or that they are penalized, especially in competitive sports.”

The focus group-based research, led by Cardwell and Susan Elliott, a health geography professor at Waterloo, assessed the effectiveness of an online module that informed coaches on the risks and practices associated with coaching players suffering from an allergic disease. 

The module users were surveyed to gather perceptions and assess its usefulness. Interviewed coaches found the module relevant, but admitted that they would tend to prioritize other, more relevant, educational modules for various reasons, including interest, issues with funding and time commitment. 

The results also showed that while most coaches were aware of broader asthma management techniques, they lacked knowledge about more specific solutions such as the Air Quality Health Index.

“Although coaches found the education module valuable, it seems that understanding and managing players with asthma isn’t perceived as relevant,” Cardwell says. “But in fact, air quality is important for everyone. If coaches are educated on this topic, it can positively influence inclusion, health, team dynamics, and long-term performance both for the team and the individual.”

In a society that strives to create healthy and inclusive communities, it is important to focus on critical everyday activities and to remember how geographical conditions, such as air quality, affect these functions. As climate change manifestations such as fires, droughts, and storms grow in frequency and intensity, the challenges of air quality will become increasingly relevant in all aspects of life.

The study, Investigating Youth Sport Coach Perspectives of an Asthma Education Module, was recently published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health.

About the University of Waterloo

University of Waterloo is Canada’s top innovation university. With more than 36,000 students we are home to the world's largest co-operative education system of its kind. Our unmatched entrepreneurial culture, combined with an intensive focus on research, powers one of the top innovation hubs in the world. Find out more at


Media Contact:

Ryon Jones
University of Waterloo
519-888-4567 ext. 30031

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