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.
The report analyzed the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an anonymous survey given to randomly chosen schools every two years. In 2009, the first year that bullying was included in the questionnaire, 138 public middle schools and high schools participated in the survey.
The results show a striking correlation between family violence and bullying. Compared with students who were neither bullies nor bullying victims, both middle and high school bully-victims reported much higher instances of being physically hurt by a family member (23.2% versus 5.1% for middle school; 20.4% versus 4.7% for high school) or witnessing violence in their family (22.8% versus 6.6% for middle school; 30.6% versus 7.2% for high school).
Key findings from the report include:
More middle school students (26.8%) than high school students (15.6%) were categorized as victims of bullying, with a greater percentage of males (9.9% for middle school and 12.1% for high school) than females (5% for middle school and 4.8% for high school) categorized as bullies.
Compared with students who were neither bullies nor bullying victims, both middle and high school bully-victims were more than three times as likely to report seriously considering suicide (24.9% versus 4.5% for middle school; 22.5% versus 6.2% for high school) or intentionally injuring themselves (40.9% versus 8.4% for middle school; 28.5% versus 8.6% for high school).
Sizable percentages of both bullies and bully-victims acknowledged recent use of alcohol (32.7% and 22.7%, respectively, for middle school students; 63.2% and 56.3%, respectively, for high school) and recent use of drugs (32.0% and 19.9%, respectively, for middle school; 47.2% and 41.0%, respectively, for high school).
Being the targets of traditional (62%) and electronic (11%) bullying than non-victims (30% and 3%, respectively)
Being afraid of attack or harm at school (23%) than non-victims (4%)
Avoiding specific places at school because of fear of attack or harm than non-victims (13% vs. 5%)
Efforts are underway in Massachusetts to prevent all forms of bullying. This past May, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that spells out new anti-bullying measures for teachers, schools, and communities. Also this year, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Public Schools began an anti-cyberbullying awareness campaign and launched a website to educate students, families, and teachers. At City Connects, our New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness Curriculum addresses bullying and teaches students skills to prevent bullying in elementary schools.