“More than 20 million children in the U.S. still lack sufficient access to essential health care,” reads the title of a 2016 report by the children’s Health Fund (CHF). As much as we would like to see all children running around carefree, enjoying perfect health, the reality is “approximately 28 percent of children in the U.S. still do not have full access to essential health services.” And this is almost eight years after the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Here, we describe American children’s health and current needs, as well as programs designed to provide them with necessary care.
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Less than Perfect Health
Health Status of Kids in the U.S.
There are 27.5 million American kids who need regular medial attention. 37% of U.S. children ages 17 and under have at least one health condition. Additionally, 40% of kids say their health issues impact their daily activities at least some of the time. Some of the most common conditions include allergies, asthma, anxiety problems, genetic disorders, depression, and autism. Allergies is the biggest culprit, as it impacts 14.4 million kids, or 20% of children 17 and under.
Risk Factors and Causes of Poor Health
There are numerous contributing factors that lead to poor health. The biggest factor is living a sedentary lifestyle. 52% of children spend one to four hours using computers, cell phones, or other handheld devices Furthermore, 76% of kids aged 6 to 17 don’t get the recommended amount of daily physical activity.
Poor nutrition and dietary habits also play a role in poor health. Nearly 40% of total calories consumed by 2- to 18-year-olds were empty calories. This correlates to 15% of American children ages 10 to 17 being overweight.
Additionally, economic factors contribute to the issue. 14.1 million children under 18 are living below the poverty level, and 18% of children are living with food insecurity in their households.
Millions of children have barriers to health care. Specifically, 13.6 million kids lack adequate health care access. Some of these barriers include high costs of care, being under insured, lack of availability of services, fear of pain or diagnosis, a parent or guardian’s inability to take time off work or get childcare, a lack of knowledge pertaining to preventative health services, language barriers, and distrust of health care services.
However, there are a few public policy strategies that can be deployed to eliminate these barriers. One of the strategies involves mandating both physical and nutrition education for all states and territories. Another strategy is to mandate school lunch programs that meet daily dietary guidelines in each state and territory. Expanding transportation options near health care centers and low-income areas is a third strategy that’s been proposed. Other tactics include disseminating informative literature about public insurance and health topics, improving services to non-English speakers, and reduce out-of-pocket costs for families.
There has also been proposed strategies to establish more health care access points. Some of these points include federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and school-based health centers.
Taking Steps Forward
Selected government and nonprofit programs, as well as initiatives, have been put in motion to address current health concerns. One of these programs is built around the children’s health insurance program. This state-run federal program is designed to provide comprehensive health insurance to children, which can provide substantial savings for families. 9.4 million children were enrolled in this program in 2017.
Another program is Bright Futures, which focuses on improving the quality of care through maintenance and dissemination of evidence-based guidelines. It also provides guidance for primary care clinicians, health care professionals, and families.
Healthy Start is another initiative that aims to improve childhood health care. This initiative is designed to reduce the rate of infant mortality and improve perinatal outcomes in high-risk populations. 1.8 million individuals receive population-based and infrastructure-building services annually because of this initiative.
Finally, Healthy Tomorrows Partnership for Children provides grant funding to increase access to health services for disadvantaged children, youth, and families. The program is currently funding 41 grants across 22 states and the District of Columbia.
Each of these programs and initiatives have primary focus areas. These include medical home/care coordination, child development and school readiness, maternal and child health, mental health, and overweight/obesity.
With 37 percent of our kids having one or more health conditions, we need to do more to help these children on the road to healthy, long, and productive lives. National programs and policies can address some of the causes, risk factors, and barriers to health care access.