The link between socioeconomic status and child health has long been appreciated at least intuitively, but the details of that link are becoming clearer. Two recent studies in the journal Pediatrics provide specific details about aspects of poverty that adversely affect the health of children. Such knowledge, in turn, can inform policies aimed at making kids healthier.
1. A study from Cornell University examined the relationship between income inequality and child abuse. Looking across all 3142 US counties, there was a linear relationship whereby the counties with the highest levels of income inequality had the highest rates of child maltreatment. The effect was independent of other factors such as absolute levels of poverty and education. This confirms other studies that have shown that not only income but income inequality affects the health and well-being of individuals.
2. Researchers at American University reported that, among households at below 300% of the federal poverty level, food prices are associated with rates of overweight children. Specifically, higher local prices of fresh fruits and vegetables correlate with higher weight and body mass index (BMI); conversely, lower prices for soft drinks correlate with higher weight and BMI. The authors exploited the fact that the database they used tracked children over time. Not only was the relationship between fresh food price and weight true when looking across children who live in different areas, but it also held when they examined children who had moved over time; such children’s weight trajectory was different depending on food cost differences between old and new areas of residence. Again, this bolsters our previous understanding about how lack of access to fresh foods can adversely affect child health. Fortunately, the 2014 farm bill contains some provisions that may mitigate this, including increased support for organic farming, ability to use food stamps at farmer’s markets, and programs getting schools to grow their own food.