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Report Finds Big Disparities in Well-Being of U.S. Kids

Huge gap exists between best and worst states, with Vermont on top and Louisiana at bottom

WEDNESDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- For American children, where they are born and raised plays a major role in their chances of getting and staying healthy and living to adulthood, a new report finds.

The report, Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States, from the Every Child Matters Education Fund, ranks each state according to how well they take care of their children.

"There exists a huge gap between states on a wide variety of child well-being indicators, especially between the bottom states and the best states," Michael R. Petit, founder of Every Child Matters and author of the report, said during a Wednesday teleconference.

"The state American children live in should not adversely affect life chances, but they do," Petit said. "How is it that a poor child in Vermont lives in a completely different world from a similarly impoverished child in Louisiana? It should no longer be politically acceptable to permit or simply ignore the vast differences in life chances that exist for children."

Almost 13 million American children live in poverty, Petit said. "Over eight million U.S. children have no health insurance and nearly three million children nationwide each year are reported abused and neglected," he added.

The report looked at 10 commonly recognized measurements of child well-being, Petit said. Most of the information was drawn from U.S. government sources and shows how the top 10 states compare with the bottom 10 states, he added.

For example, children in the lowest-ranking state, Louisiana, are twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared with children in the highest-ranking state, Vermont.

Children in Louisiana are also more than three times likelier to die between the ages of 1 and 14, and three times more likely to die between the ages of 15 and 19, compared with children living in Vermont.

Children in Louisiana are also three times more likely to be born to a teenage mother and five times more likely to have mothers who received late or no prenatal care, than children in Vermont.

And children in Louisiana are more likely to live in poverty with no health insurance than children in Vermont. Louisiana children are also eight times more likely end up in jail and 13 times more likely to die from abuse and neglect, according to the report.

The 10 states at the bottom of the list are: Arizona (41); South Dakota (42); Nevada (43); Arkansas (44); South Carolina (45); Texas (46); Oklahoma (47); New Mexico (48); Mississippi (49); and Louisiana (50).

The 10 top states are: Vermont (1); Massachusetts (2); Connecticut (3); Rhode Island (4); New Hampshire (5); Hawaii (6); Iowa (7); Minnesota (8); Washington (9); and Maine (10).

Other key findings contained in the report:

  • Children in the bottom 10 states are 70 percent more likely to die before reaching 1 year of age.
  • Children in the bottom 10 states are twice as likely to die by age 14.
  • Women in the bottom 10 states are twice as likely to get inadequate prenatal care.
  • Children in the bottom 10 states are twice as likely to live in poverty.
  • Children in bottom 10 states are 6.7 times more likely to die from abuse and neglect.
  • Children in bottom 10 states are 2.8 times more likely to be uninsured.
  • Teens in the bottom 10 states are twice as likely to have children of their own.
  • Teens in the bottom 10 states are twice as likely to die between 15 and 19 years of age.
  • Children of the bottom 10 states are more than twice as likely to be in jail.

According to the report, a number of factors play a role in the disparity between states. These include political culture, where the bottom states tend to see government's role in social issues as limited. Bottom states also generally have lower taxes, so they invest less in children's programs.

On the federal level, programs for children's health care, child abuse and poverty have been declining as government money earmarked for children has been cut. Federal funding is expected to be reduced even more in the next decade, the report said. Federal spending on children declined from 20 percent of domestic spending in 1960 to 15 percent in 2005, Petit said.

One expert agrees that the disparity in how children fare across the United States is a matter of concern that needs to be addressed.

"The marked variability in child mortality among the states suggests that we are too tolerant of disparities in financial security, education, and social services," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University School of Medicine's Prevention Research Center.

"While it seems unlikely our society will eliminate all social disparities, those that impact the survival of children clearly deserve dedicated attention," Katz said. "A systematic comparison of programs and policies across states is a good initial step in narrowing the health gap that indicates we are not quite the one nation, for all, we aspire to be."

The Every Child Matters Education Fund is a nonprofit organization that says it seeks to make the needs of children a national political priority and to promote the adoption of smart policies for children and families -- including stopping child abuse, helping working families with child care, expanding preschool education and after-school programs, and ensuring that children receive good health care.

More information

To see the full report, visit the Every Child Matters Education Fund.

SOURCES: April 2, 2008, teleconference with Michael R. Petit, founder, Every Child Matters, Washington, D.C.; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Geography Matters: Child Well-Being in the States

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