Children’s Socioeconomic Status and Health: Progress Made and Opportunities to Seize

By Tara Mancini

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently released the 2011 edition of their annual report on the health status of the nation. The 35th edition, “Health, United States, 2011,” provides single year data, as well as trend data where it is available. The report compiles the most currently available information and statistics from various government, private, and global agencies; a complete list of which can be found in the report’s appendix.

A special feature of this year’s report is the chartbook that highlights the relationship of health status and socioeconomic status (SES), which here is measured by two variables, education and relative family income.  Several indicators specific to children’s health include: prevalence of asthma, ADHD, obesity, dental visits and health insurance status.

Corroborating data from many other recent surveys, the chartbook reveals that the rate of uninsurance among children declined in the last decade. The most significant gains having been made among low-income children, who saw their uninsurance rate almost cut in half. Still, the 2009-2010 data reveal racial disparities for children within the same percent of poverty level.

In addition, low-income children continue to experience health disparities in health outcomes and in access and utilization of care. Data from 2009-2010 indicate that low-income children had a higher prevalence of asthma and were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.  Additionally, there are racial disparities among children in households with the same poverty level. The data on obesity show that rates were higher for children whose head of household had lower educational attainment. Boys generally had higher rates of obesity than girls, except for those residing in homes where the head of household’s highest educational attainment was high school.

Oral health has increasingly been recognized as a part of comprehensive health care, although access to routine dental care can be hard to come by.  On a positive note, during the last decade, the percentage of children who reported visiting a dentist in the past year increased exponentially for low-income children. Still, in 2010, the percentage of children below the poverty level that have seen a dentist in the past year is still far less than the percentage of kids at or above 400% FPL.

Although I’ve only highlighted a few data points, we see that while we have made great progress in covering kids, the opportunities abound for addressing those health care disparities that persist.