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Child Wellbeing Report Finds Health Improvements, But Racial Divides Persist

children of different races
McGeorge BLSA via Flickr/

The health of America’s children is improving along four key measures: low birth weight, health insurance coverage, child and teen death, and substance abuse. Economic indicators, however, paint a gloomier picture, with childhood poverty staying stagnant or worsening. That’s according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count Data Book, published Tuesday. The report measures the effects of economics, education, family and health on children’s wellbeing. The researchers focused on changes between 2008 and 2013.

Health insurance coverage

Overall, the most dramatic shift in health was the increase in children with insurance coverage. In 2008, 10 percent of American children (7.3 million) were uninsured. In 2013, just 7 percent (5.2 million) lacked coverage. But uninsured rates among American Indian and Hispanic kids were much higher: 16 and 12 percent respectively.  

Substance Abuse

The percentage of teens aged 12 through 17 engaging in binge drinking dropped from 11 percent to 7 percent. And despite the growing epidemic of prescription drug addiction during this period, adolescents’ use of illicit drugs other than marijuana dropped a percentage point. Teens of Asian American and Pacific Islander origin had the lowest rate of alcohol and drug abuse: 2 percent, compared to a national average of 5 percent.

Low birthweight babies

Rates of low weight births, a major risk for death in the first year of life, remained relatively stable at 8 percent nationally. But 12.8 percent of black babies were born at less than 5.5 pounds in 2013, compared to 7.1 percent of Hispanics and 7 percent of white infants. As Side Effects reported, infant mortality rates have fallen over the last decade, but the rate for African American infants is much higher: It's more than twice that of whites and Hispanics.

Child and teen death

2013 also saw more deaths among black children and teens than other ethnic groups, with 33 deaths per 100,000, compared to a national average of 24. Overall, the child and teen death rate has fallen from 29 per 100,000 in 2008.

Child poverty

Nationally, childhood poverty did not improve during this period, and worsened by some measures. In 2013, 22 percent of children lived in poverty, which is 4 percentage points higher than 2008.  In 2013, 30 percent of children (22.8 million) lived in families where neither parent had full-time, year-round employment – an increase of nearly 2.7 million from 2008. The report notes that poverty may affect children’s health in many ways. For example, children in low-income households may get insufficient nutrients, be exposed to toxins in their homes, or experience social and emotional impacts from their parents’ stress.

These conditions disproportionately affect minority families.  More than 30 percent of African American, American Indian and Hispanic children lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared to 14 percent of White and Asian and Pacific Islander children. Roughly half of American Indian and African American children lived in households where no parent had full-time, year-round employment.