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Editorial: Survey points out obstacles to kids' well-being

Apr. 14, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

A recently released survey yields what appears to be some positive findings regarding the health of children in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. But a closer look at the details provides troubling reminders about challenges that threaten children's well-being, particularly in West Virginia and Kentucky.

The National Survey of Children's Health was conducted by the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, based in Portland, Ore. The center's mission is to gather and share information on the status of children's health and health-related services for children, youth and families in the United States. One method is a survey of parents across the nation on various topics, including physical and mental health, access to quality health care, and the child's family, neighborhood and social situations. The survey released this month, reflecting information gathered in 2011 and 2012, is its third regarding children's health, following up similar efforts in 2003 and 2007.

The encouraging news is that the portion of parents who described their children as in excellent or very good health ranged from 85.5 percent in Kentucky to 86.8 percent in Ohio, with West Virginia in between at 86.3 percent. All three results were slightly better than the national average, which isn't always the case in studies that examine health issues. All three states also did slightly better than the national average in regard to children having excellent or very good oral health.

Other positive aspects were that a slightly higher-than-average percentage of children in the three states had insurance coverage and had a preventive medical visit in the previous year.

But the report also highlighted aspects of children's well-being that remain a problem. Obesity rates for children in West Virginia and Kentucky remain higher-than-average, as do the percentages of children born prematurely. Both circumstances are pointers toward other health problems.

Environmental issues also came into play. For example, significantly higher percentages of children in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio live in households where someone smokes tobacco, which is a threat to anyone's health. Conversely, a far lower-than-average percentage of West Virginia and Kentucky children lived in neighborhoods with a park, sidewalks, a library and a community center. That translates into them having fewer opportunities for exercise and less access to enrichment activities.

For parents, the findings are a reminder that they should encourage their children to eat more healthy foods and exercise more. In addition, how well adults take care of themselves can improve the odds for healthy children. Pregnant women should avoid any substances that could harm their children and strive to receive good prenatal care. And smoking in a household not only poses the harm of second-hand smoke to children, but also sets a poor example.

For policymakers, the results suggest more attention should be paid to health education efforts, access to prenatal care and ways to promote exercise and access to key facilities, such as parks and libraries.

It will take resolve on both fronts to make headway on these issues.

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