In Connecticut, wealth means health

Household education also a factor in children’s health, study finds

by ....Time via flickr

by ....Time via flickr

WASHINGTON – Connecticut children aren’t as healthy as they should be, according to a national report that shows how family background affects kids’ health.

White, wealthy and educated parents have the healthiest children in Connecticut, but even these kids are ailing more than their counterparts in other states, the report, published Wednesday, finds.

The report was commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health and health care philanthropy that in 2007 awarded $480 million in grants, and authored by two researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. Their aim was to “look beyond the medical care system,” according to the report, and explore how social factors affect the health of children.

“Why people stay healthy or get sick in the first place often has little to do with [access to medical care],” Sue Egerter, co-author of the report, said in a conference call Tuesday. “We need to recognize that there is more to health than health care.”

In Connecticut, the report shows that children in poor families are roughly 4.5 times as likely to be unhealthy – as reported by their parents – than children from wealthier families. Similarly, kids in households without a high school graduate are 4.5 times as likely to be unhealthy than those living with someone who went to college.

Education and income are related but separate factors, according to the report. While educated parents can secure better jobs with higher income, they also make better role models for children, lowering their exposure to unhealthy conditions such as secondhand smoke.

“[Education and wealth] are hard to disentangle, but we see independent health effects of both factors,” said Dr. Paula Braveman, who directed the study and co-authored the report.

The researchers rank Connecticut 18th among states based on the gap between the overall rate of unhealthy children – 12.7 percent – and the rate among higher-income families – 6.9 percent. California has the widest gap, while New Hampshire has the narrowest.

The study defines higher-income households as those with incomes four times the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that means families earning roughly $82,500 or more.

But even Connecticut’s higher-income families reported a higher rate of sick children than the “national benchmark” of 3.5 percent. This benchmark refers to the lowest rate of unhealthy kids from high-income families in any state – in this case, Colorado.

The failure of other states to match this benchmark shows that all families need to live healthier, more productive lifestyles, said Dr. David Williams, staff director of the foundation project.

“This is not just a problem for the poor or minorities,” Williams said. “As a society, we are not doing as well on health as we could.”

Obesity and asthma are two prevalent – and often preventable – problems that affect privileged and poor children alike, according to Elizabeth Brown, legislative director for the Connecticut Commission on Children, which helps guide children’s programs in the state.

Brown said the state needs to work with schools and families to develop a more preventive approach to health, citing the nutrition movement in public schools as an example.

“We have a crisis type of health system,” Brown said. “There’s no money in preventative health right now…. We really need to work with parents to inform them how they can help their children grow to their fullest potential in a more holistic manner.”

This spring the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will recommend strategies to improve the health of Americans based on its children’s health report and other research.

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