A nation wide study conducted on more than 57,000 children found that greater the social disadvantage the children have, like being poor or having a single mother who is a high school dropout, greater are their chances of becoming sick, immaterial of race or health insurance coverage.
Sociologists have always believed for long that growing up in physically or mentally impoverishing conditions is bad for children, but this study is the first to show that increase in social disadvantages increasingly magnifies the health risks children face.
Dr. Ruth Stein, a pediatrician at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Children's Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, said that the children having three main social disadvantages like poverty, low parental education and single-parent household were four times more likely to be in poor, fair or good health than children with none of these risk factors to be, as opposed to very good or excellent health. She further explained that children with all the three risk factors were twice as likely as children with none to have a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes or mental retardation. She also reported in the April issue of Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that children who had two of the risk factors were three times as likely to be in poor, fair or good health than those with none, and youngsters with one risk factor had twice the health risk.
Dr Stein further stated that the children were in rather grave situations because so many of them were under these risk factors and many of them have multiples of these risk factors. Stating that to have healthy kids to growing up to be healthy adults, the need to tackle these problems was important, she explained.
The researchers estimate that about 6.2 million American children have all three risk factors, 9.6 million have two and 18.9 million have one. Paul Newacheck, professor of health policy and pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study, said these findings represent a new concept that shows the need to look beyond single issues like poverty or minority status. He said that it is now important to think broadly about what the determinants of health were, and should be careful before labeling certain racial, ethnic, groups as having poorer health because reasons intrinsic in them. Stating that these studies show that's it rather their other disadvantages they face in life, like lower incomes, family structure issues and things like that that may be the underlying reasons for worse health outcomes.
The study was an analysis conducted on the social conditions and health of 57,533 children under age 18 who were interviewed as part of the National Health Interview Survey Disability Supplement for the years 1994 and 1995. It found that the three social disadvantages outweighed the availability of health insurance, either private insurance or publicly financed Medicaid, as factors determining a child's health condition.
Sociologist Laurie J. Bauman, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the study's lead author stated that health insurance is absolutely necessary and he added that it may very well improve the health of children, but it's not going to solve the problem of social disparities. He said that it's going to make it easier for families to get care, but there are other reasons why it's hard for people to get care. Explaining that a mother who's poor and a single mom, would have more difficulties in getting her kids to care and taking care of them than being just poor but also having two parents in a household, she said.
Suggesting that relying on single-policy approaches to children's health, like boosting health insurance, are not sufficient to solve the problem posed by social disadvantages, Greg Duncan, professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, said the study now tells that health insurance and health care alone doesn't help in keeping kids in good health. He explained that it's also clear that the sources of poor children's health is more complicated than just how much access they have to care.