The connection between students’ health & poverty

Research shows that out-0f-school factors (like hunger or homelessness) contribute to two-thirds of the achievement gap, with the other third being attributable quality of instruction and curriculum. One in five children in the US lives below the federal poverty level; poverty is one of the most pervasive of these factors and it impacts children across all four of City Connects’ domains: academics, social/emotional, health, and family. The connection between poverty and health has taken center stage in the media lately. The New York Times’ Well blog  recently featured a post written by a pediatrician, “Poverty as a Childhood Disease,” which described how poverty impacts a child’s health:

Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains. We’ve seen articles about the language deficit in poorer homes and the gaps in school achievement. These remind us that … poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.

APA_Task_Force_Strategic_Road_Mapver3-1The post highlighted a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty, an effort unveiled at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies earlier this month. It called poverty “the most important problem facing children in the United States today” and advocated for a consistent and unified voice speaking out about children and poverty.

For more information:

  • On Twitter, follow the Academic Pediatric Association  @AcademicPeds

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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Bullying and the School Nurse

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, which discussed the link between family violence and bullying, a new paper in the journal Pediatrics shows that both bullies and their victims make more frequent trips to the school nurse than their peers. These visits were not just related to injuries sustained as a result of bullying and indicate that the school nurse may be an effective place to identify cases of bullying. The  study, conducted by Eric Vernberg of the University of Kansas, followed 600 students in grades 3 through 5 at six schools for a year.

For more information:

  • Read the full study in Pediatrics here
  • Read Reuters Health coverage here

More Sleep, Less Obese?

Photo by GraceFamily

A new study published in Pediatrics finds that kids who sleep more hours and on a regular schedule are less likely to be obese. Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville found that kids in the study (aged 4 to 10) slept an average of 8 hours per night. Children whose sleep duration was shorter and did not follow a regular pattern were more likely to be obese.

“Catchup sleep” on the weekends slightly reduced the risk of obesity, but the study also found that obese children were less likely to catch up on sleep on weekends.

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Study Shows School Lunch Programs May Help Break Poverty Cycle

A new study published online in the journal Pediatrics found that food insecurity is associated with poor academic achievement in adolescents. However, when these adolescents received school-based food supplementation programs (like free and reduced-price lunch), they performed the same as their peers who were not living in food-insecure households. The authors write that their results suggest that “school food assistant or some aspect of it may well help adolescents thrive during the secondary school years and may be a part of a successful poverty-reduction strategy.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14.7% of households were food insecure at least some time during 2009–the highest recorded  rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the first national food security survey was conducted.

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