High obesity rates, low participation in the labor force and a lack of high school education are factors impacting youth in Texas, according to a recent study.
WalletHub, a personal finance company, ranked Texas 39th in the country for at-risk youth. According to the study, Texas lags behind on key health issues.
Texas is struggling to keep its youth educated, according to the report. The Lone Star State ranks 10th in percentage of disconnected youth and 10th in youth without a high school diploma.
“The large percentage of disconnected youth encompasses those between 18 and 24 years old who are neither attending school, nor working and have no degree beyond high school,” said Wallethub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “This could be caused by the education system, but also a lack of encouragement from families to move toward independence.”
These advancements are also in direct correlation to youth labor force participation, where Texas ranks 9th.
From April 2018, the number of employed youth 16 to 24 years old increased by two million to 20.9 million nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Clearly there is a connection between the two metrics,” Gonzalez said. “Dropping out of high school can force youth into entering the labor force as early as 16.”
Another major challenge for Texas youth revolves around high obesity and uninsured rates.
Texas ranks 18th in percentage of overweight and obese youth. This in conjunction with the highest uninsured rate in the county for children means Texas youth have fewer resources to combat physical health issues.
“To alleviate the obesity rate, authorities could encourage physical activity among teenagers and young adults by maintaining parks clean,” Gonzalez said. “They could also implement educational programs regarding healthy nutrition.”
In Hays County, educating youth on improved eating habits is the focus for the Hays County Food Bank, which provides meals for the food insecure.
Whitney Lewis, development and special events coordinator for the HCFB, said the mission of the organization is to alleviate some of these realities by providing more nutritious foods to low socioeconomic households.
Vegetables and fruits are 30% of all goods given to families at the food bank. Additionally, the staff has worked to cut down on sweets and sugary foods.
“Especially for those families who don’t have access to good healthcare, what they eat will ultimately make a huge difference,” Lewis said. “One nutritionist here at the food bank is always going up with new recipes for families to try with the foods we provide. It’s a huge part of our educational outreach.”
But where Texas lacks in education and high obesity rates, the state is performing well with curbing illicit drug use, an important metric when considering the grasp of the nationwide opioid crisis.
“Texas has some of the lowest shares of youth using illicit drugs and reporting heavy drinking,” Gonzalez said. “It also ranked very well in terms of mental health, having less than 12% of youth with depression and just about 6% physically, mentally and emotionally inhibited youth, the second-lowest percentage in the country.”
Gonzalez said Texas ranked highest compared to other states in the South, but work can always be done to achieve a better life for youth across the state.