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Who Are America’s Poor Children?
Examining Health Disparities Among Children in the United States

Authors: David Seith and Elizabeth A. Isakson
Publication Date: January 2011

This is an excerpt from the full report


Good health goes a long way, as research suggests that poor health in childhood not only impedes early child development, but can also have lasting consequences on children’s future health and wellbeing. Although many would agree that a health is a fundamental right, children born into low-income families are less likely to enjoy this right.

As part of NCCP’s Who are America’s Poor Children? series, this report draws on the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to provide an overview of the health of America’s children by poverty status from 2007 to 2009. To assess health disparities between poor and nonpoor children, it identifies a list of publicly available annual indicators within the following five broad domains of health: environmental health, health insurance coverage, access to healthcare services, behavior, and health outcomes.

We find evidence of disparities between poor and nonpoor children within each of these five domains. These findings are consistent with two longstanding conclusions within the field of public health. First, “the relationship between socioeconomic status and health is one of the most robust and well documented findings in social science.”2 Second, this relationship is reciprocal, as poverty detracts from resources used to maintain health, while poor health detracts from the educational and employment paths to income mobility.

Following a framework developed by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, this paper suggests five key domains of health: environmental health, health insurance coverage, access to healthcare services, behavior, and health outcomes.4 While income is one of the leading predictors of health disparities, it is not the only one (and often is associated with other risks). The influences of race and ethnicity, neighborhood safety and collective efficacy, family structure, and many other factors, are also critically important, though not examined here. With the exception of the two readily available survey indicators of reported emotional difficulties and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, we do not examine indicators of social-emotional well-being and mental health.