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Survey finds more work needed for better health

Arkansas children are more likely to receive preventive dental care, immunizations and mental health services than they were just seven years ago, according to a comprehensive report released last week. At the same time, the state’s youth need better access to medical care, more nutritious meals and consistent health education, the report notes.

The findings are published in the fourth edition of Natural Wonders: The State of Children’s Health in Arkansas, a survey that examines the health needs of Arkansas kids. The publication also provides an update on efforts to address the biggest risks faced by the state’s children, including obesity, infant mortality and traumatic injury.

The report 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 like economics and education. Since the partnership convened in 2007, the report has provided a detailed examination of children’s health.

“Over the last seven years, Arkansas has made big strides toward bringing down the barriers to a healthy childhood for our youngest citizens,” said Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe, honorary chairwoman of the Natural Wonders Partnership Council. “We’re on the right track with advancements in access to oral care, physical fitness opportunities and prenatal care. But our children deserve even more.”

The first Natural Wonders report identified nine areas of emphasis for addressing the health needs of Arkansas children. Selected based on the results of interviews, focus groups and dataset analysis, these themes include: prenatal care, infant mortality and teen pregnancy; immunizations; oral health; injury prevention; tobacco use prevention; obesity prevention; mental health services; health service needs and expansions; and capacity building.

Accomplishments in those areas since the initial study include the following milestones:

* Since 2002, the Arkansas teen birth rate has declined, falling from 15.5 percent of all births in 2002 to 12.6 percent of all births in 2011.

* Arkansas’ childhood vaccination compliance has increased from 57 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011. A new immunization registry launched in 2013, allowing schools, child care centers and medical providers to track which immunizations are needed.

* Legislation passed in 2011 will improve fluoridation and give more Arkansas children access to dental sealants.

* Smoking rates among Arkansas youth dropped from 36 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010. In 2013, two state laws passed that will help reduce children’s access and exposure to e-cigarettes.

* The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the state’s private option expansion of Medicaid, is expected to provide health coverage for an additional 500,000 uninsured Arkansans. As their parents secure coverage, as many as 40 percent of the state’s remaining uninsured children are also expected to receive coverage.

“Every parent envisions a healthy future for their child, but sadly we know that isn’t a reality for many Arkansas families,” said Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “This latest report is a call to action. We can’t change what these children have already experienced, but we can give them better resources for the road ahead.”

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

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