Latino Children Face More Health Disparities, Access to Care Barriers, Report Says
Latino children, the largest minority group of children in the United States, face a number of barriers to health services, including language, cultural differences and a lack of health insurance, resulting in a "high prevalence" of various health conditions among the population, according to a special report published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, the Hartford Courant reports (Waldman, Hartford Courant, 7/3). Thirteen experts from the Latino Consortium of the American Academy of Pediatrics Center for Child Health Research identified the "most important urgent priorities and unanswered questions in Latino child health" to create the report. The report highlights the following:
- Mental health: One study found that "significantly higher" proportions of Latino children showed signs of depression, phobias and fears, anxiety and panic and disturbances of relationships with other children, compared with black children. Other research has shown that Latino children are more likely to report that they have considered suicide than children in other ethnic groups.
- Oral health: Latino children have a disproportionately higher prevalence of dental cavities. Only 60% of Mexican-American children ages 12 to 17 have had cavities treated or filled, compared with 87% of white children.
- Weight: Latino boys are the most overweight group of children, and Latina girls are the second-most overweight group. Further, a study of a group of low-income Mexican-American children showed an extremely high prevalence of risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
- Asthma: About 500,000 Latino children have asthma; about two-thirds of them are Puerto Rican. Puerto Rican children have the highest prevalence of active asthma among all U.S. children. The report notes that Latino children face a greater exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants and states that the contribution of environmental exposures to diseases such as asthma is "substantial."
- Health of migrant children: In particular, children of Latino farm workers receive inadequate preventive care, have high rates of infectious diseases and are at risk for nutritional disorders, including diabetes and obesity. Such children also are likely to be eligible for public health insurance through programs such as Medicaid and CHIP, but because of their "high interstate mobility and difficulties with residency and citizenship status," many are not enrolled.
- Health insurance: Latino children are more likely than any other group of U.S. children to be uninsured. About 1.1 million poor Latino children are uninsured, compared with 806,000 white, 703,000 black and 95,000 Asian children.
- Barriers to care: The report notes that Latino children face 22 access barriers to health care, including poverty, transportation problems and lack of a regular source of care.
- Quality of care: Studies have shown Latino children receive a lower quality of health care, the report notes. For instance, in a study of children and adults hospitalized for limb fractures, whites overall received higher doses of pain medication than Latinos and blacks.
Because of the dearth of research on the health of Latino children, there are "many unanswered questions" about the causes of the health disparities affecting them, the report says. The report recommends that researchers include more Latino children in medical research, noting that the disparities they face make them a "model population" on which to develop and test ways of improving the health of underserved populations. Further, the cultural competency of health care workers, the number of Latino care providers and the number of insured Latino children should be increased, the report says. The report concludes that "health policies, services and research [should] address" the fact that Latinos now are the predominant racial/ethnic minority group of U.S. children, according to the 2000 census (Flores et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, 7/3). "If the disparities continue, [they have] the potential to affect the health and productivity and well-being of our entire nation," lead author Dr. Glen Flores said (Suriano/Brewington, Orlando Sentinel, 7/3). The study is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.