Since 2007, Johnston County children have seen improvement in key health indicators, including insurance coverage, dental care, teen pregnancy and child deaths, according to the latest N.C. Child Health Report Card.
These gains are at odds with what’s expected during economic downturns, when health typically worsens.
“Poverty causes increased financial and emotional strains on families that often result in poorer health outcomes for children,” said Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child, formerly Action for Children North Carolina. “These data show that public-policy actions that promote evidence-based programs and support local communities can be powerful tools to safeguard our children’s health during tough economic times.”
According to the 2013 Child Health County Data Card for Johnston County, between 2007 and 2012:
• Medicaid enrollment increased by 30.9 percent and Health Choice enrollment increased by 41.7 percent. Those numbers are consistent with statewide data showing a 30-percent decline in uninsured children.
• Medicaid-eligible children who received dental care increased by 34.3 percent for ages 1-5 and 7.9 percent for ages 6-14.
• North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate continued to fall, dropping 43 percent to 19.7 per 1,000 girls ages 15-17. The teen pregnancy rate was 20.4 per 1,000 girls in Johnston County.
• Statewide, child fatalities continued to decline, falling 22 percent to 58.6 per 100,000 children under age 18. Johnston County had 26 child deaths in 2012.
• The graduation rate improved by 9.7 percent.
“It’s no coincidence that Johnston County experienced a significant decline in its teen pregnancy rate and increase in its graduation rate over the past several years,” said Bell. “Both of these indicators have been targeted by well-funded state efforts. This improvement should give us hope that we can make progress on big problems when we’re willing to put resources behind data-driven solutions.”
While typically associated with academic achievement, the graduation rate is also a key health indicator. Education is associated with better earning potential and higher income, which enables purchase of better housing in safer neighborhoods, healthier food, health insurance coverage and more timely medical care. Studies have linked quitting high school to higher rates of substance use and psychological, emotional and behavioral problems.
Not all news is good
NC Child’s findings for Johnston County were not all positive. Key economic indicators in Johnston County have worsened as a result of the recession and subsequent budget cuts. Specifically, from 2007 to 2012, the unemployment rate in Johnston County increased from 4.2 percent to 8.4 percent, and the median household income declined 7.8 percent to $48,773. In 2011, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 24.9 percent of children in Johnston County were living in households that struggled to meet their basic nutritional needs.
“Statewide, one in four children are growing up in poverty,” Bell said. “Food insecurity is a very serious byproduct of poverty that’s making its presence felt in Johnston County. No child should ever go to bed hungry, but unfortunately, that’s what’s happening to children across the county.”
“We know that parents and communities are working hard to grow healthy children, but they cannot do it alone,” Bell said. “Advocates, providers, community and business leaders, state and federal governments must collaborate to strengthen investments in prevention programs and promote focused public policies that promote child well-being.”
To download a copy of the county data, visit ncchild.org/sites/default/files/Johnston.pdf.