Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kids Count shows Ky. tops in smoking by pregnant mothers, has a wide range of local data about children's well-being

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

The annual Kids Count report on children's well-being, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates, says the state leads the nation in smoking by pregnant mothers and more than one in four children in Kentucky lived in poverty in 2012. It argues for improvements in preventive care and newborn health throughout the state.

The report is part of the 23rd annual release of the County Data Book, which contains a wide range of county-by-county data that are indicators of children's well-being. Unlike previous annual reports, this one ranks Kentucky counties on overall child well-being and on four domains: economic security, education, health, and family and community strength.

The county-by-county assessment found seven counties that scored substantially higher on overall child well-being rankings: Boone, Calloway, Meade, Oldham, Spencer, Washington, and Woodford. The six counties clearly at the bottom, in descending order, were Owsley, Knox, Elliot, Martin, Fulton, and Clay.

Health affects almost every aspect of child well-being. On the four scores in the Health domain (smoking during pregnancy, low-birthweight babies, asthma hospitalizations and teen births) Oldham and Boone counties scored much higher than other counties, and Bell and Fulton counties, in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state, scored the lowest.

The chart to the right indicates how much worse Bell and Fulton ranked than similar counties. 

The data from this year’s Kids Count book, as well as new and historical data for the many other indicators Kentucky Youth Advocates tracks, can be found at the Kids Count Data Center by clicking here. The data cover counties, school districts, cities and Metro Louisville council districts.

Based on the latest available data from 34 comparable states, in 2011 Kentucky had the highest rate of women who smoked during pregnancy. Nationally, 9 percent smoked during pregnancy while 23 percent did in Kentucky.

Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to suffer low birth weight, premature birth and infant death, and almost one in every 10 babies in Kentucky were born at low birth weight, says the report. While the national average for low-birthweight babies is 8.1 percent of all live births, low-birth-weight babies made up more than 14 percent of births to mothers in Lawrence, Lewis, Martin, and Wolfe counties.

“We know smoke-free policies will reduce smoking during pregnancy and reduce the number of babies born at a low birth weight,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “It’s time to do what works and enact a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law. We need to protect all children, not just those lucky enough to be born in a smoke-free community.”

In addition to babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy, those born to teenage mothers are at increased risk of low birth weight and other health problems, says the report.

While the state's rate of births to teenage mothers has declined each year since 2007, it remains higher than the national average, which has shown a similar decline. There were 43 teen births for every 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2011, compared to the national rate of 31. The report says Oldham County had the lowest rate of teen births (1.3 percent) while McCreary County had the highest (8.6 percent). It also says the most effective way to keep reducing teen births rate is to educate young people about sex and risky sexual behaviors, and to provide access to contraceptive methods.

While Kentucky has made progress in providing health-care coverage for children and newborns, the state is among the leaders in childhood obesity, diabetes and asthma, and has a greater-than-average number of children with disabilities or other chronic health problems like cystic fibrosis or heart disease, the report says. "Yet families face many hurdles when they seek treatment for their children. They may lack health insurance or lack transportation," it says. "Some areas do not have enough health-care providers."

Report calls for investments in Kentucky children

Higher teen-birth rates are found among communities of color, which are also disproportionately affected by poverty, says the report. One in four of Kentucky's children live in poverty.

This rate and the number of unemployed parents, which went up by 24,000 between 2007 and 2012, have increased since the 2008-09 recession. Poverty rates in 2012 were highest among African American children (52 percent) and Hispanic or Latino children (41 percent). Living in a high-poverty area puts a child at greater risk for poor health and educational outcomes.

A widespread lack of economic security is perhaps the greatest concern for many kids in the state, says the report. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services recently cut spending for the Child Care Assistance Program and the Kinship Care Program. As a result, 8,700 families lost assistance for child care, and financial support was also eliminated for main relatives who raise children unable to live with their parents. The report calls for restoration of these programs and more investments in Kentucky’s children.

"Taken together, the data tell a clear story: Kentucky kids need the attention of Kentucky leaders," says the report. “It’s time to make children and families a priority in our state by investing in programs that keep parents working and promote economic security,” said Brooks.

Click here to get more information about the Annie E. Casey Foundation or view its policy reports.

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