Even short-term poverty can hurt kids' health
November 15th, 2010
04:32 PM ET

Even short-term poverty can hurt kids' health

Being poor for even a short period of time can have lasting health implications for children, according to a new report by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 15.5 million children are living in poverty in the United States, that's one in five children according to the Census Bureau.

Researchers looked at data surrounding four topics: Health, food security, housing stability and maltreatment. They examined each in relation to past and present recessions.  During childhood, the body is growing quickly and researchers say even a brief period of poor nutrition could lead to lifelong issues.

21 percent of all households with children were estimated to be "food insecure," according to the report data. "Food insecure" is when a family doesn't have access to enough nutritionally adequate food to meet proper dietary needs. "The numbers illustrate that even a one-time recession can have lasting consequences,"  says Dr. David Rubin a co-senior author of the study.

Enrollment in programs such as food stamps has increased.  "We had counties in the United States where 70 percent of all children in that county were receiving food stamps. It's shocking to me that we are at those numbers," says Rubin, who's also director of the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.  Parents who are trying to trim food costs may turn to less-expensive meals, such as fast food, and this could have an impact on childhood obesity.

Affordable housing directly influences a child's health according the report. Unsafe living conditions, homelessness and frequent moves put children more at risk to suffer from a number of health issues including hypertension, heart disease, depression or anxiety, athsma, developmental delays and behavioral problems.

The maltreatment of children either physical or emotional has decreased according to the report, but the researchers note the government has downsized the number of programs focused on these issues.   Researchers found child neglect incidents rose during previous recessions leading them to expect a rise following the current recession.

Researchers did find the number of children covered by health insurance is up. "Stability is very important to child well being," says Dr. Kathleen Noonan co-senior author of the study. "The planning that was done to create a safety net for children for insurance actually created a buffer," but she says, the subsidies families receive when it comes to other needs are usually a one-time benefit, yet these families continue to suffer year after year.

 The report will be discussed as part of a congressional briefing with Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday.

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