Pediatricians, economists, social scientists and policy experts met to address one of the greatest threats to child health – poverty.
The group took part in a plenary session titled, “A National Agenda to End Childhood Poverty,” at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC. The session covered a range of issues related to childhood poverty, including its measurement, its impact on child health and potential solutions.
Children are the poorest segment of society: 22 percent of U.S. children live below the federal poverty level, a prevalence that has persisted since the 1970s. The effects of poverty on children’s health and well-being are well-documented. Poor children have increased infant mortality; more frequent and severe chronic diseases such as asthma; poorer nutrition and growth; less access to quality health care; lower immunization rates; and increased obesity and its complications.
“How can this be the wealthiest country in the world when one in four of America’s children has been living in poverty for over four decades?” said plenary Co-Chair Thomas K. McInerny, MD, FAAP, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The AAP and the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) have decided that now is the time to work on reducing childhood poverty as a major step to improve the health of our nation’s children, our most precious resource.”
Although the nation has made policy decisions to support the elderly (whose poverty prevalence has dropped from 35 percent in 1959 to 9 percent in 2010), the same has not been done for children.
“As a society, we have chosen to use government programs to protect seniors from poverty. What the U.S. does for seniors is clearly good; so why do we not also protect children from the life-altering effects of poverty?” said plenary Co-Chair Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP, immediate past president of the APA and co-chair of the APA Task Force on Childhood Poverty.
Topics and presenters included:
- “Childhood Poverty in the U.S.: An Overview,” presented by Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP, New York University School of Medicine, New York.
- “Childhood Poverty: The Definition, Measurement and Complex Aspects of Childhood Poverty in the U.S. and Europe,” presented by Kathleen S. Short, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
- “U.S. Policy Initiatives for Children in Poverty,” presented by Mark Greenberg, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.
- “Health Insurance Coverage for Poor Children: Opportunities and Threats,” presented by Peter G. Szilagyi, MD, MPH, FAAP, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, N.Y.
- “Investing in Kids: Supporting Early Brain and Child Development to Strengthen Our Economy and Workforce,” presented by Robert H. Dugger, PhD, ReadyNation, Washington, DC.
- “The War on Childhood Poverty in the United Kingdom: Accomplishments and Lessons for the U.S.,” presented by Jane Waldfogel, MEd, PhD, Columbia University, New York.
- “Translating What Works into an Agenda for Reducing Childhood Poverty in the U.S.,” presented by Timothy Smeeding, PhD, MA, MS, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“There is no higher-return investment for business than early childhood,” said Dr. Dugger, co-founder of ReadyNation, a business partnership for early childhood and business success. “Investments in early health care that supports brain and child development have documented high near-term returns in the form of increased school readiness, reduced special education, and reduced costs for grade retention and English language learning. They also generate long-term returns through higher graduation rates, greater employment and increased lifetime job earnings. All of these add up to a more productive workforce, a stronger economy and higher business profits.”
Childhood poverty is not without solutions, concluded plenary Co-Chair Paul Chung, MD, FAAP, chair of the APA Public Policy and Advocacy Committee and chief of General Pediatrics at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. Other developed countries have devised long-term national efforts to decrease childhood poverty and have succeeded.
“Pediatricians simply can’t reach their full potential as health care providers when we have no real strategy to help address the most important childhood drivers of lifelong poor health, such as poverty,” Dr. Chung said. “Until then, we’re all just playing at the margins.”
American Academy of Pediatrics