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More Evidence That Severe Poverty Harms Kids' Health

Children living way below poverty line more likely to be obese, exposed to lead

MONDAY, Jan. 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Severe poverty is a threat to young children's health and development, a new study suggests.

"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 study senior author Sheila Smith. She is director of early childhood at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Researchers analyzed U.S. data gathered from 2011 to 2013. They focused on children younger than age 9, comparing those in deep poverty -- defined as a family income below 50 percent of the federal poverty line -- with those who are poor but not in deep poverty, and those who aren't poor.

Children in deep poverty were more likely to be obese than those in the other two groups. The study also found that kids in deep poverty had blood lead levels three times higher than poor children and more than 17 times higher than those who aren't poor.

High blood lead levels are associated with learning and behavior problems, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that children in deep poverty were also more likely to have parents with poor or fair physical or mental health, and more frequent parental stress. Children in deep poverty were also more likely to have parents who lacked social support and security in their neighborhood.

These family circumstances are associated with poor health and developmental problems in children, according to the authors.

Compared to children in the other two groups, those in deep poverty are less likely to be considered "flourishing" by their parents.

"To give young children a fair chance of life success, we need to strengthen basic safety net policies, including Temporary Aid to Needy Families, 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," Smith said in a Columbia news release.

The report was published recently by the National Center for Children in Poverty.

More information

The Children's Defense Fund has more about child poverty.

SOURCE: Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, news release, Jan. 12, 2016

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