Child health lags behind in Texas

The overall health of children in Texas continues to lag behind other states, according to a recently released report.

Wallethub, a Washington D.C. finance group, ranked Texas as the fifth worst state for children’s healthcare in the nation. Factors include Texas having the highest uninsured rate in the nation and a high childhood obesity rate. 

Across a majority of the metrics, Texas ranked in the bottom half among other states.

Texas ranked 46th in children with medical and dental preventive care, and was 46th in the rate of uninsured children. Texas also ranked 12th worst in pediatricians and family doctors per capita. 

“About a quarter of Texas’ children are not in good health and a third don’t have all recommended vaccines,” said Wallethub Analyst Jill Gonzalez. “These are direct consequences of parents struggling to pay their children’s medical bills.” 

Gonzalez said the state could offset these findings by increasing its investment in child healthcare services. 

While the stats are alarming, medical professionals in Central Texas are working to provide services for children, as well as aiding parents on how to promote a healthier lifestyle. 

Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, a pediatrician and director of government relations and advocacy and Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, is leading that charge. Edwards works to educate parents on how to implement healthier daily habits that could offset issues such as childhood obesity.

Edwards said the state needs to promote changes in lifestyle and diet patterns. That comes as the amount of uninsured Texans rose by 150,000 people in 2016-2017.

More exercise, especially at a younger age, as well as promoting water consumption and fruits and vegetables in the diet at earlier ages are ways to combat those issues, Edwards said.

“When you look at children and their spheres of influence, so much can be done at the home, community and state to keep them healthy,” Edwards said.

Edwards said parents must be their child’s biggest cheerleader, but also lead by example. If a child observes their parents enjoying healthier habits, they will too, she said. 

At the state level, legislation has been moving through the House and Senate that would promote physical activity and limit the amount of time children interact with electronic devices.

Senate Bill (SB) 952 by Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would require certain childcare facilities to adopt standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics for nutrition, physical activity and screen time. 

The bill has moved through the Senate garnering bipartisan support and is slated to be heard in the House. 

Ascension has also fully funded the cost of the GoNoodle program’s for three years for all 133 public elementary schools in for the Austin, Round Rock and for the Hays Consolidated Independent School District. 

The GoNoodle program aims to increase physical activity among children by providing access to hundreds of videos centered on staying active.

All of these strategies, whether in the home, school or at the capital, all share a common goal of working to change the culture around child healthcare in a state that is statistically lagging behind. 

For those families who do not have insurance, Edwards said she likes to strategize on how to get them covered. This could include looking at their qualifications, providing information and eliminating any disinformation a parent may have. 

“These aspects are all recommended behaviors that can become the norm for our children’s lives,” Edwards said. “As a community, we need to work together to change our spheres of influence.”

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