New Study Shows School has Large Role in Kids’ Health Disparities

A study published in the August 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by a consortium led by Boston Children’s Hospital examined potential causes of racial and ethnic health disparities in 10- and 11-year-olds. It’s being called the “most ambitious study yet” of health issues facing children this age. The study looked at 16 health-related measures and found:

  • Black children were four times more likely and Latino children were two times more likely than white children to see a threat or injury with a gun
  • Black children were more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol than Latino and white children
  • Rates of obesity were nearly twice as high among black and Latino children, who also reported less vigorous exercise than white children.

But these disparities were affected by a child’s school and parental levels of income and education. From the Children’s Hospital press release:

…The study found that children of all races and ethnicities did better on these health indicators if they had more highly-educated parents with higher income or had the advantages of attending certain schools. Although white children were more likely to have these advantages than black or Latino children, when children with similar advantages were compared, racial and ethnic differences for most health indicators were smaller or even absent.

How should the findings be interpreted? The study’s first author, Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and William Berenberg professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said knowledge is key:

“Significant disparities in behaviors and experiences that raise health concerns are already present during elementary school. We should be thinking about these issues when children are young enough to prevent bad outcomes before they occur. Our research suggests that schools may be a key leverage point for addressing gaps among different racial and ethnic groups. We need to figure out what we can learn from the schools that are doing better, even when they’re in similar communities to schools that are not doing as well.  Is it a visionary principal, committed teachers, a strong commitment to health education, an engaged PTA? We need to learn more.”

At City Connects, we believe that supporting students in elementary school gives them the tools they need to succeed and thrive in school. Our systematic approach to addressing students’ strengths and needs has proven effective in elementary school and beyond; you can read about our results here.

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