We Can do Better When it Comes to Children’s Health in Kentucky

In the middle of the day Monday, I received an email from my husband. The subject line was “say waaa?” with a link to this story:  “Survey: Ky. kids healthier than US average.”

First, it is sad that someone’s first reaction to hearing that Kentucky kids are healthier than the average American kid is disbelief. Certainly we can do better as a state to both improve children’s health and improve the perceptions of children’s health.

That article only tells part of the story.  The Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health released data from the National Survey of Children’s Health for 2011 and 2012 last Friday. The results come from a survey of parents throughout the country who were asked questions about the perceived health of their children and the factors affecting their children’s health – a fact the article above fails to mention. As indicated in the article, it is true that according to the Kentucky parents surveyed, 85.5 percent of children are in excellent or very good health compared to the national response of 84.2 percent.

That’s great news! Most Kentucky parents believe their children are healthy. Also – more parents in Kentucky than the national average reported that their children have health insurance. This is largely due to the increase in the number of children covered by the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) in recent years.  But parents don’t always have an accurate view of their children’s health. For example, many parents underestimate their children’s weight when asked. Examining other indicators raises some questions about those positive perceptions as well.

For example, almost 40 percent of Kentucky children live in households where someone smokes, as opposed to 24 percent nationally. That’s a huge disparity and illustrates the importance of implementing statewide smoke-free laws. Additionally, parents surveyed reported that 30 percent of Kentucky children have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences, like financial hardship, witnessing domestic violence, or living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem have been proven to negatively impact health when these children become adults. That number drops to just under 23 percent nationally. Parents also reported that fewer children in Kentucky are receiving preventive dental visits than children nationally.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no one was surprised if Kentucky children were actually healthier than the national average? We have a long way to go first. Our policymakers can implement smoke-free laws across the state. We can work with community leaders to increase oral health literacy. Our Governor and legislators can adopt Medicaid expansion which will help children and parents alike receive the health care they need. We can do a better as a state – we need to do better as a community – to ensure our children grow up as healthy children to be healthy, productive adults. So, let’s acknowledge the positive results of this survey, but let’s also look to where we can improve.

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