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Natural Wonders: The State of Children’s Health in Arkansas Provides Comprehensive Update on How State’s Youngest Fare

Natural Wonders: The State of Children's Health in Arkansas Provides Comprehensive Update on How State's Youngest Fare

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (July 27, 2011) - Arkansas children have better chances for good health than ever before, with new laws that protect them beginning at birth and going well past the day they earn their driver's licenses. Additional investments in their education, dental care and mental health are also giving kids in this state advantages they've never had, according to a comprehensive report released today by a unique partnership of health care providers, state agencies and other organizations concerned about children's well-being.

The findings are published in the third edition of Natural Wonders: The State of Children's Health in Arkansas, a report that examines the needs of the state's youngest citizens and provides an update on efforts to address the biggest risks faced by Arkansas kids, including infant mortality, traumatic injury and mental illness.

The report also offers strategies for improving children's health based on data collection and analysis. In addition, Natural Wonders aims to deter preventable illnesses and injuries through promoting health literary.

The report, created by the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, incorporates traditional indicators of health such as mortality and chronic disease rates as well as social factors that influence health including economics and education. When combined, these determinants provide a detailed examination of children's health.

"The third edition of the Natural Wonders report provides evidence of the progress being made by the collaborative efforts of the Natural Wonders Partnership Council," said Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe, honorary chairwoman of the panel. "This informative report shows that we are on the right track toward improving the health and quality of life of our state's children. Our progress has been remarkable, but there is still much more work to be done."

Important Findings

Drawing on the resources of several collaborating agencies and institutions, the report celebrates the progress that has been made to address children's health concerns since the initial analysis in 2007. The collaborating organizations found that "more than ever before, Arkansans are collaborating to address issues that affect child well-being."

Among the accomplishments documented since the initial Natural Wonders release in 2007:

  • Mandatory newborn health screenings that detect life-threatening conditions early enough for physicians and families to intervene. In the first two years of this testing, the screenings allowed doctors to diagnose 136 cases of diseases like cystic fibrosis or congenital hypothyroidism that would have caused death or disability if they weren't detected as early.
  • New laws intended to decrease the fatality and injury rates among young drivers, including a primary seat belt law and graduated driver licensing for teens. In addition, laws governing the use of mobile phones and texting at the wheel will make the roads safer for all drivers.
  • Legislative approval for better access to substance abuse services and funding for after-school programs, early childhood education, child welfare and juvenile justice system reforms.
  • A 56-cent increase in the state tobacco tax, which supports substance abuse services, a statewide trauma system, school health initiatives and community health centers.
  • Highlights from the 2011 legislative session like expanded fluoridation, better access to ARKids First and more spending on low-income students. When implemented, these laws will give children better chances for healthier teeth, comprehensive health insurance and a good education.

"Kids in Arkansas need us to pave the way so they can grow up happy and healthy," said Jonathan Bates, MD, president and CEO of Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH). "These milestones are just the start of that adventure. We have to keep our eyes on the horizon and dismantle the obstacles that are still in their way."

The report also underscores the work ahead to get Arkansas children on equal footing with their peers in other states. For instance, children in Arkansas still aren't receiving all the services they need for good health. This is often because the services cost too much or families have trouble finding them nearby.

All but two counties in Arkansas are designated by the Arkansas Department of Health's Office of Rural Health and Primary Care at least partially as medically underserved, meaning they don't have enough health professionals. Natural Wonders also indicates that 7 percent of the state's children remain uninsured.

In addition, the report notes that fewer Arkansas women are seeking the prenatal care they need to deliver healthy babies. Between 2002 and 2009, the percentage of women in the state who took advantage of those services declined by 3 percent, while the birth rate remained steady. Across the nation, 83.9 percent of women seek prenatal care; in Arkansas, only 76 percent do.

The Natural Wonders Council also wants to see more children getting their full battery of immunizations to protect them against deadly and debilitating diseases. The data in the report show that Arkansas children are less likely to receive vaccines than their peers across the U.S. The national average of childhood vaccination coverage is 65.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Arkansas lags behind with 63.9 percent of kids between 19 and 35 months receiving all their immunizations.

More and more families are requesting exemptions from vaccinations, and concern is growing about a few Arkansas counties where the rates for exceptions are particularly high. The practice has dire consequences, as children who are exempt from vaccines are 35 times more likely to come down with measles and six times as likely to come down with whooping cough.

Every other year, a diverse panel of representatives from agencies and organizations concerned about improving children's health will updateNatural Wonders. Comprised of educators, business leaders, government officials, physicians, nurses, social workers and other community advocates, the group meets regularly to review work under way to improve Arkansas children's health. Arkansas Children's Hospital has funded the information-gathering stage of the council's work.

Natural Wonders is sponsored by several organizations concerned with ensuring Arkansas children have the best chances for healthy and happy lives: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families; Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Arkansas Center for Health Improvement; Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Arkansas Children's Hospital; the Arkansas Department of Health; the Arkansas Department of Human Services; University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute of Economic Advancement; Arkansas Kids Count; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics; the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service; the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators; Arkansas Children's Trust Fund; the Arkansas Department of Education; Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance; Arkansas Minority Health Commission; Arkansas State Dental Health Association; Delta Dental; the March of Dimes; and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The complete Natural Wonders report is available on the ACH website at http://www.archildrens.org/NaturalWonders. Those interested also may call (501) 364-1574 for more information.

Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children. The campus spans 29 city blocks and houses 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development. ACH recently ranked No. 75 on FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For®. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org.

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