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U.S. Child Health System Needs Total Overhaul

When it comes to health care for our kids, we live in a hardscrabble world that is only going to get tougher. That is the underlying message from three UCLA professors// who are calling for a complete overhaul of the U.S child health care system, which they describe as a “patchwork of disconnected programs, policies and funding” that lacks “clear accountability or performance goals.”

In their report, which appears in the current issue of the journal Health Affairs, Dr. Neal Halfon, director of the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities at UCLA’s School of Public Health, and his co-authors argue that even as Congress, the nation’s governors and the Bush administration debate federal spending on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers low-income uninsured children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, our leaders are not tackling more fundamental challenges facing the nation’s child health system.

According to the authors, the current system is failing to produce the kind of health outcomes that it could and should because it is powered by outdated logic, outmoded organization, and inadequate and misaligned finance strategies that were designed to be responsive to epidemiology and health goals more relevant to the early part of the 20th century.

“An increasing body of science now tells us that the scaffolding for our adult physical, cognitive and socioeconomic health is built in the early years of life,” said Halfon, who prepared the report with Dr. Helen DuPlessis, UCLA adjunct assistant professor, and Moira Inkelas, UCLA assistant professor, both with the School of Public Health. “We know now that many health problems have their origins during childhood and simply compound over time.”

Obesity rates among the nation’s children have doubled in the last 20 years, Halfon said, and the prevalence of diagnosable mental health and behavioral problems in youth has climbed
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