Technology

Kids Are Falling in the Wellness Gap


Where you're born in the U.S. has a lot to do with how healthy you grow up. A study by Every Child Matters points out the stark differences

When it comes to American kids' well-being, all states are by no means equal. In fact, a baby's chances of making it to adulthood have a lot to do with where he or she is born, and there's a widening gap between states where kids are likely to grow up healthy and places where the chances are slimmer, according to a new, unsettling report.

The nonprofit Every Child Matters Education Fund, based in Washington, says there is a growing "national investment gap" in health and social programs contributing to the well-being of children in the U.S., with poor southern states generally losing out to states in New England. Michael Petit, founder of Every Child Matters and a longtime advocate for children's issues, says the report highlights how even as some people live in "pockets of relative affluence … there are entire segments of this nation with crushing circumstances for children." Case in point: A child born in Louisiana is twice as likely to die in the first year as a child born in Vermont, according to the report.

The report ranks states using 10 indicators of child well-being, including infant and child mortality, prenatal care, child poverty, access to health insurance coverage, teenage pregnancy, and child abuse and neglect. The authors say the biggest determinants of a state's standing in those rankings are poverty, educational achievement, and the size of minority populations.

A Stark Divide

Petit also points out that the bottom-ranked states generally have a narrower view of the role of government in addressing social issues, and have much lower tax burdens than those states at the top of the lists. Every Child Matters says it's highlighting the findings in part to build a case for "new investments in health, education, and social programs" aimed at kids wherever they live.

The divide between states at the top and bottom of the rankings is stark by many measures. A child in South Dakota is 3.5 times more likely to die by age 14 than a child in Rhode Island, and women in New Mexico are more than 5 times as likely to receive inadequate prenatal care as women in Rhode Island or Vermont. Children in Oklahoma are 13 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect as those in Maine, and the teenage birth rate in Texas is 3.5 times that of New Hampshire. Two of the states farthest from each other are also opposites when it comes to teenage death: Alaska's teen death rate is 2.5 times higher than that of Hawaii.

The top 10 ranked states in the study, starting with No. 1, are Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, and Maine. The worst 10, starting at the bottom, are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, Arkansas, Nevada, South Dakota, and Arizona. For more on the report, go to www.everychildmatters.org. And for a closer look at the highest- and lowest-ranked states, see BusinessWeek.com's slide show.

Arnst is a senior writer for BusinessWeek based in New York.

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