N.C. kids see gains in well-being

PJ staff report

RALEIGH, N.C. – While children in North Carolina are faring better these days based on several measurements, those gains could be in jeopardy as the effects of the recession sink in, a new report says.

Infant and child deaths are at their lowest levels ever, and tobacco, drug and alcohol use among teens has dropped over the past five years, says the study conducted by Action for Children North Carolina and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine.

But 22.5 percent of children are living in poverty and more than 11 percent have no health insurance.

As cuts to children’s services continue, and as the state budget gap worsens, further funding pressure likely will hit agencies and organizations serving children, the study warns.

“It is likely the effects of these service reductions will be reflected partially in the 2010 data on child health and safety and fully in 2011,” the report says.

For now, though, the report contains some encouraging news for the 2004 to 2009 period:

  • The number of teen pregnancies fell 16.2 percent
  • Cigarette use fell 17.7 percent, alcohol use fell 17.3 percent, and cocaine use declined 30.4 percent
  • Infant deaths were down 10.2 percent and child deaths fell 13.8, both reaching historic lows
  • The number of children covered by public health insurance grew 26.6 percent and the share of Medicaid-enrolled kids receiving preventive care grew 16.6 percent

And despite these improvements in insurance coverage and preventive care, obesity rates rose among kids age two to 18, with kids age five to 11 seeing a spike of 8.4 percent from 2004 to 2009.

The report urges state policymakers to keep children as a top priority when dealing with current and future budget crises.

“Their challenge will be to set a vision of healthy, safe children within nurturing families, and to do everything possible to attain that vision even in time of budget crisis,” the report says. “Nothing less than the future of North Carolina is in the balance.”

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