2012 Child Health Report Card Shows Progress, Continued Challenges in Child Health

(Raleigh, NC)–North Carolina’s future prosperity is shaped by children’s health status, as well as where they live, learn, and grow, according to a new report by Action for Children North Carolina and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. 

“Good health forms a foundation for future academic, economic and social success,” said Deborah Bryan, President & CEO of Action for Children North Carolina. “When children grow up healthy, safe and connected to resources that enable them to thrive, they are more likely to find gainful employment, have stable families, and be active and productive members of their communities.”

Many chronic, costly, health challenges North Carolina will face in the future have their roots in the early years of life. These include conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mental health problems.  Reducing the incidence and prevalence of these conditions, or lessening their effects, could have large payoffs for the state’s future health costs in addition to improving health.  “Increasing access to health care and decreasing adverse childhood experiences are two of the key ingredients in improving child health.  Improvements in child health will impact educational success, graduation rates, and adult health,” said Adam Zolotor, MD, Vice President of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

In addition to addressing traditional health outcomes, the 18th annual North Carolina Child Health Report Card explores the relationship between social determinants of health–variations in living circumstances such as income, access to health care, educational achievement, neighborhood quality, and environment–and children’s health outcomes. Research shows that social determinants of health, although important for all age groups, are especially influential for children because they shape early child development and affect future opportunities for health throughout the life span.

The report shows important progress in efforts to address some of these fundamental factors that shape child health, despite continued challenges. Last year, North Carolina’s graduation rate reached 80%, a significant improvement from five years ago. However, child poverty in North Carolina increased to 25.6 percent, up from 20.2% in 2006. Among children most susceptible to the negative effects of poverty–children under age five–the poverty rate was even higher at 30.3 percent.

The relationships between high school graduation, household income, and health have been well documented.  Graduating from high school improves individuals’ quality of health, reduces rates of alcohol and drug abuse and has been associated with longer life spans. The experience of poverty, on the other hand, is associated with poorer health outcomes including poor nutrition, obesity, and higher mortality rates.  

Other highlights from the 2012 North Carolina Child Health Report Card include:

  • Medicaid and North Carolina Health Choice continued to preserve children’s access to health insurance coverage despite persistent, high poverty and unemployment rates in the state. Together, the programs provide coverage to one in every two children in North Carolina (1.1 million) under age 18.
  • The percentage of infants in North Carolina born weighing less than 5 lbs., 5 oz. (9.1 percent) remained unchanged between 2006 and 2011. Low birth weight births in North Carolina are most often due to prematurity, and they can carry significant long-term developmental consequences for children including: higher rates of brain injury, developmental delay, chronic lung disease, and eye disease.
  • The percentage of children who report using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription increased from 17 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2011. Poising is the fastest growing cause of child death in North Carolina, and is due largely to the misuse of prescription drugs.

Advocates say addressing the social determinants of health is not the sole responsibility of the health sector. “Across the state we are seeing exciting new partnerships emerge between the public sector and nonprofits to address the fundamental factors that shape our children’s health,” said Bryan. “We hope that the North Carolina General Assembly will prioritize evidence-based programs and policies that promote economically secure families and high-quality education as part of a comprehensive approach to improving children’s health and well-being in North Carolina.”

About the Report Card

For 18 years, the North Carolina Child Health Report Card has tracked the health and well-being of children and youth in our state. The report card compiles more than 40 indicators of child health and safety into one easy-to-read document that helps policymakers, health professionals, the media, and concerned citizens monitor children’s health outcomes, identify emerging trends, and plan future investments. The report card presents data for the most current year available, usually 2011, and a comparison year, or benchmark, usually 2006.

Click here to download a copy of the 2012 North Carolina Child Health Report Card.

The report card is available online at www.ncchild.org.