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Poverty And Health: Low Income Families At Increased Risk Of Illness

First Posted: Jan 15, 2016 04:36 PM EST

Children in deep poverty with family income below 50 percent of the federal poverty line have worse health and development markers when compared to those in families with higher income. 

Researchers at the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health compared the well-being of children in deep poverty to children who are poor but not in deep poverty and to children who are not poor. They found that young children in deep poverty were exposed to three times more lead than poor children and 17 times higher amounts than non-poor children, which can cause serious learning and behavioral problems, researchers say.

"Deep poverty, which affects approximately 3.9 million young children, clearly makes large numbers of U.S. children vulnerable to health and developmental problems that limit their life opportunities," said Sheila Smith, PhD, director, Early Childhood at NCCP, in a news release. "To give young children a fair chance of life success, we need to strengthen basic safety net policies, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), expand Medicaid across all states so that parents will not be left in poor health without health coverage, and invest in programs that have proven effective in helping families overcome adversities so their children can thrive."

During the study, researchers looked at four nationally representative datasets for the years 2011-2013. They focused analyses on children under age 9--with most cases of data collected in surveys that were based on parent reports. However, some exceptions included directly measured obesity and lead blood levels.

The study results showed that a higher percentage of young children in deep poverty compared to children in poverty had parents in poor or fair health and/or mental health. Futhermore, it also showed that they experienced frequent parental stress, as well as a lack of perceived social support and neighborhood security. 

When compared to others in poverty, they found a lower percentage of children in deep poverty were noted as "flourishing" by their parents; this was noted as a composite measure that reflects parents' view of the child's curiosity, resilience, affection, and positive mood. The study also notes that "less positive views of children's wellness were especially common among parents of children who experienced frequent parenting stress."

Statistics from the findings showed that only 22 percent of deeply poor and frequently stressed parents with children younger than 5 reported their children were flourishing when compared to 48 percent with low parenting stress. 

More information regarding the study can be found, here.

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