State of Children's Health in Arkansas Improving

LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) – Arkansas children are more likely to receive preventive dental care, immunizations and mental health services than they were just seven years ago, according to a comprehensive report released today by a unique partnership of health care providers, state agencies and other organizations concerned about children’s well-being. At the same time, the state's youth need better access to medical care, more nutritious meals and consistent health education, the report notes.

The findings are published in the fourth edition of Natural Wonders: The State of Children’s Health in Arkansas, a survey that examines the health needs of Arkansas kids. The publication also provides an update on efforts to address the biggest risks faced by the state’s children, including obesity, infant mortality and traumatic injury.

The report offers strategies for improving children’s health based on data collection and analysis. In addition, Natural Wonders aims to deter preventable illnesses and injuries through promoting health literary.

The report, created by the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, incorporates traditional indicators of health such as mortality and chronic disease rates as well as social factors that influence health like economics and education. Since the partnership convened in 2007, the report has provided a detailed examination of children’s health.

“Over the last seven years, Arkansas has made big strides toward bringing down the barriers to a healthy childhood for our youngest citizens,” said Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe, honorary chairwoman of the Natural Wonders Partnership Council. “We’re on the right track with advancements in access to oral care, physical fitness opportunities and prenatal care. But our children deserve even more.”

The first Natural Wonders report identified nine areas of emphasis for addressing the health needs of Arkansas children. Selected based on the results of interviews, focus groups and dataset analysis, these themes include:

  • Prenatal care, infant mortality and teen pregnancy

  • Immunizations

  • Oral health

  • Injury prevention

  • Tobacco use prevention

  • Obesity prevention

  • Mental health services

  • Health service needs and expansions

  • Capacity building

Accomplishments in those areas since the initial study include the following milestones:

  • Since 2002, the Arkansas teen birth rate has declined, falling from 15.5 percent of all births in 2002 to 12.6 percent of all births in 2011.

  • Arkansas’ childhood vaccination compliance has increased from 57 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011. A new immunization registry launched in 2013, allowing schools, child care centers and medical providers to track which immunizations are needed.

  • Legislation passed in 2011 will improve fluoridation and give more Arkansas children access to dental sealants.
  • The addition of three mobile dental clinics managed and staffed by Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) resulted in more than 2,000 previously underserved Arkansas children receiving dental care annually. The mobile dental clinics are supported by private donations from Ronald McDonald House Charities, Delta Dental and Tyson Foods.

  • In 2009, new laws passed intended to decrease the fatality and injury rates among young drivers, including a primary seat belt law and graduated driver licensing for teens. In addition, the state passed laws governing the use of mobile phones and texting at the wheel, making the roads safer for all drivers. New data shows those laws have already saved dozens of lives.
  • The Arkansas Trauma System was formalized in 2009 so injured patients could be routed more efficiently to the best facility for their care.
  • Smoking rates among Arkansas youth dropped from 36 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010. In 2013, two state laws passed that will help reduce children’s access and exposure to e-cigarettes.
  • With support from ACH and the Blue & You Foundation, hundreds of classrooms in the state now have free access to online health education curriculum through HealthTeacher and GoNoodle. Arkansas is the only state in the nation with this kind of initiative.
  • The Arkansas System of Care is now reaching more families than ever. Family support partners help families set wraparound goals for at-risk children, local care coordinating councils strengthen community-based services, and local youth- and family-focused activities help support families struggling with behavioral health problems.
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the state’s private option expansion of Medicaid, is expected to provide health coverage for an additional 500,000 uninsured Arkansans. As their parents secure coverage, as many as 40 percent of the state’s remaining uninsured children are also expected to receive coverage.
  • A 2013 law ensures that new home-visiting programs are evidence-based and establishes an evaluation plan to track and measure outcomes for child and family well-being and school readiness. Arkansas has already received more than $7 million annually to expand evidence-based home-visiting programs and to improve training of home visitors across our state. An additional 1,000 families are being served today as a result of this effort.

The 2014 update provides a new dataset, allowing analysts to compare progress made in these areas since the first report was issued. Conducted in late 2012, the survey questioned 1,000 households about needs, challenges and assets related to children’s health. The Natural Wonders update also drew on the results of eight focus groups in Batesville, Forrest City, Gurdon, Lavaca, Little Rock, Jonesboro and Springdale. Additional data was drawn from existing sources ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count to neighborhood-focused research by local organizations.

The report emphasizes opportunities for improvement in several areas where children still face risks to their health and well-being.

“Every parent envisions a healthy future for their child, but sadly we know that isn’t a reality for many Arkansas families,” said Marcy Doderer, FACHE, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “This latest report is a call to action. We can’t change what these children have already experienced, but we can give them better resources for the road ahead.”

Though the state’s teen pregnancy rate has declined, Arkansas still ranks fourth in the nation for the percentage of all births that occur to mothers between 15 and 19. In addition, the state’s infant mortality rate is high and deaths attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are almost twice the national average. The report suggests renewed emphasis on strategies to reduce these statistics and relieve other risks kids in Arkansas face.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital funds the information-gathering stage of the council’s work.

Natural Wonders is sponsored by several organizations concerned with ensuring Arkansas children have the best chances for healthy and happy lives: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families; Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Arkansas Center for Health Improvement; Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Arkansas Children’s Hospital; the Arkansas Department of Health; the Arkansas Department of Human Services; University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute of Economic Advancement; Arkansas Kids Count; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics; the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators; Arkansas Children’s Trust Fund; the Arkansas Department of Education; Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance; Arkansas Minority Health Commission; Arkansas State Dental Health Association; Delta Dental; the March of Dimes; and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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