Obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, alcoholism, smoking and drug use, depression, adolescent pregnancy and high blood pressure: these are the modern plagues that will “determine the trajectory of our future health care costs in Rhode Island,” said Catherine Walsh, the deputy director of Rhode Island Kids Count.
Walsh detailed the findings of the report she wrote, “Disparities in Children’s Health,” to a gathering of more than 50 of Rhode Island’s top children’s health experts, advocates and providers in Rhode Island on Feb. 29 at the Providence Marriott.
These adverse adult-health outcomes, Walsh continued, are shaped in large part by what happens in maternal, infant and children’s health, the evidence-based research showed. And, in Rhode Island, the disparities by race, by ethnicity, by geography and by family income are still persistent and very damaging, despite the best attempts at intervention.
The report, co-sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, was introduced by Peter Andruszkiewicz, president and CEO of Blue Cross. He praised the significant leadership role that Elizabeth Burke Bryant, the director of Rhode Island Kids Count, has played in bringing evidence-based research to the discussion of children’s health across a broad spectrum of issues.
The differences found were stark. “I do this research all the time, but I am still startled by the huge disparities,” Walsh said, pointing to a slide entitled “Disparities in Educational Attainment.” In Rhode Island for the class of 2011, the high school dropout rate for blacks was 17 percent, for Hispanics, 20 percent, for low-income students, 19 percent, and for Asians, 14 percent. By comparison, the drop out rate for whites was 9 percent, and for higher-income students, 5 percent. By comparison, only one in 20 high-income, high school students dropped out in 2011.
Another compelling finding was the high incidence of obesity, with 50 percent of Hispanic seventh-graders in Rhode Island being overweight or obese in the 2010-2011 school year, putting them at an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and other chronic health problems.