Georgia Income Disparity Shows Up in Children’s Health

By ANDY MILLER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A new report ranks Georgia near the bottom on two key measures of children’s health that focus on family education and income.

The state has a higher-than-average rate of infant mortality, defined as the number of children who die before their first birthday. The national report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released today, also found that Georgia infants born to the most-educated mothers have a much greater chance of living past their first birthday than infants with mothers who have fewer years of schooling.

It ranked Georgia 46th among states on the size of that gap in infant mortality based on a mother’s education.

The state also shows a big disparity in children’s health status based on household wealth.

Nearly 15 percent of Georgia children age 17 or younger are in less-than-optimal health, as reported by their parents. But as income rises, children’s health improves. The report said 26 percent of Georgia children in poor families have health problems, compared to 5.7 percent of kids in high-income households.

Georgia ranked 41st on that health gap between higher-income households and poor families. Even children in middle-class families appear to be less healthy than those in higher-income households in Georgia, the report found.

The study, by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, shows that across the country, shortfalls in health are greatest among children in the poorest or least-educated households.

“This report shows us just how much a child’s health is shaped by the environment in which he or she lives,” said Alice Rivlin, co-chairwoman of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America.

The commission, she said, is identifying ways “to narrow these gaps so our nation can put all children on an even path to good health.”

Other Georgia statistics in the report include:

• More than 40 percent of Georgia children live in poor or near-poor households, while 26 percent live in high-income families.

• More than one-third of Georgia children live in households where no one has education beyond high school.

• The infant mortality rate among Georgia babies born to African-American mothers is more than twice the rates among babies of white or Hispanic mothers.

“If we could eliminate the black-white gap in infant mortality rates in Georgia, we would save a baby’s life almost every day,” said Dr. George Rust, director of the National Center for Primary Care at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, who reviewed the report’s findings Tuesday.

“There are significant inequalities in children’s health based on income, education and race,” Rust said. “Georgia is underperforming in terms of ensuring our children’s health.”

Even for high-income, educated families, Georgia’s infant mortality rate is higher than the national benchmark, Rust said.

Solutions to child health problems, Rust said, include improving access to prenatal care, eliminating smoking during pregnancy, requiring physical education in schools, and providing appropriate school lunch programs.

“Children’s health is a challenge for everyone,” he said.

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