The Times West Virginian

April 16, 2014

Child health: ‘Room for improvement’

According to statistics in annual national study

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Children living in Marion County are doing better in some respects than children in other counties in the state, according to a national study released Tuesday.

“The 2013 West Virginia Kids Count Data Book,” published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compares states and their counties to each other and to the national average of various areas of child health.

Marion ranked ninth overall in the state. Monongalia County was first and McDowell, last.

On the other hand, 37th-ranked West Virginia was almost in the bottom quarter. New Hampshire was ranked first, with New Mexico 50th.

West Virginia’s children on the whole live in worse conditions than children of many other states, the report said.

• The state and county are both higher than the national average for percentage of low birth-weight babies, 2005 and 2012. Marion County: 8.1, 9.0 (27th in state); state: 9.2, 9.3 percent; nation: 8.4 percent (2012).

• Marion County and the state are both higher in infant mortality (per 1,000 live births). Marion County: 6.8, 7.0 (27th in state); state: 7.9, 7.4; nation: 6.5.

• Marion County is lower and the state higher than the national average in child death rate (ages 1-14 per 100,000 children). Marion County: 22.9, 14.0 (15th in state); state: 24.6 and 22.3; nation: 17.7.

• Marion County and West Virginia both enjoyed a jump in percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-K. Marion County: 36.6, 62.0 (30th); state: 39.8 and 62.4 percent. No national statistics available.

• Marion County was near the national average in percent of children approved for free and reduced-price school meals (K-12), while the state was higher. Marion County: 49.8, 50.5 (10th); state: 52.7 and 58.2; nation: 50.4.

• While Marion County and the state saw a decrease in child abuse/neglect, both were higher than the national average rate (per 1,000 children). Marion County: 22.0, 12.5 (19th); state: 22.6, 11.5; nation: 10.4.

• Marion County was slightly higher than the national average in teen birth rate (ages 15-19 per 1,000 females); the state was much higher. Marion County: 33.3, 36.3 (14th); state: 43.4, 45.3; nation: 34.5.

• Marion County and the state are higher than the nation in percent births to unmarried teens (ages 10-19). Marion County: 7.4, 8.9 (11th); state: 9.2, 10.5; nation: 8.4.

• Both the county and state have improved in percentage of high school dropouts. Marion County: 10.8, 9.0 (27th); state: 16.8, 11.3; nation: not available.

• Marion County and the state are higher in teen injury death rate than the nation. Marion County: 27.5, 50.4 (30th); state: 70.1, 50.2; nation: 42.8.

• More children in the county and state live in poverty than in the nation. Marion County: 23.7, 23.4 (10th); state: 25.5, 26.1; nation: 22.5.

• Marion County and West Virginia are lower in percent births to mothers with less than 12th-grade education. Marion County: 12.6, 12.7 (seventh); state: 18.4, 18.0; nation: 21.1.

All of these numbers mean that while life is improving for the state’s children in many ways, not all is good news.

“Parents need to understand that kids need a good start in life,” said Lloyd White, administrator, Marion County Health Department.

“Kids are much like adults. They pick up habits early in life. We need to teach them healthy habits, eating, diet, activity, that they can adopt for life.

“On the other side, if you don’t do that, those are barriers for health care for children. We need to value the same things (with children).”

For example, many adults get annual flu shots without fail.

“But they may neglect to get their children flu shots. It seems like we think kids are young and healthy and OK, but we need to teach them preventative measures that they can carry on into adulthood.

“Ninth (place) is good, but there’s certainly room for improvement,” he said.

The teen birth rate went up from 2005 to 2012, from 33 to 36 percent, and percentage of births to unmarried teens (ages 10-19) increased from 7.4 to almost 9 percent for the same time period.

The Marion County Health Department provides a family planning clinic “for all populations, not just for teens,” he said, that provides birth control education. Condoms are also available.

All services are confidential and appointments are needed by calling the health department at 304-366-3360.

“It’s critical to start teaching kids the value of making the right choices and the consequences” of making poor ones, White said.

“We have to teach them the value of life in general. Don’t engage in risky behavior.

“It all begins with education and awareness. Then we need to follow through. We need to combine effective education and awareness with other areas, to adopt a healthier lifestyle.”

He said he’s proud of the immunization rate in Marion County.

“It all goes back to stressing the importance in preventing diseases. And the school system is doing a great job in providing resources.

“It takes a collective effort to make sure we follow through. That definitely makes an impact on our lives.”

Still, there are changes he’d like to see happen, when it comes to children and health.

“I’d like to see some of the changes we do for adults. We preach obesity and physical activity, but we take this for granted in children.

“We assume they can eat what they want and there will be no negative impact, but we see so any overweight and obese children.

“We need to treat children like we do adults ... take care of your body with proper diet and exercise, and that will go a long way to a healthier lifestyle for children.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.