Posted by Patricia Gail Bray on March 27th, 2015 at 10:07 am
When it comes to health, does it matter where kids live? You bet it does. There are 1.7 million children under 18 living in the 13-county Texas Gulf Coast Region. When we compare health indicators for these children, we see wide disparities from county to county. The Episcopal Health Foundation’s Children’s Health Snapshots highlight 20 key indicators for each county in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, including early childhood education, economics and behavioral risk factors. The goal is to get an accurate picture of the difference that place makes for children’s health.
For Matagorda County, for example, 15 out of 20 indicators fell below the state average. Compare this to Fort Bend County, where one indicator ranked below the state average. The six counties in our region with the most-favorable rankings also had lower rates of child poverty. Conversely, the poorest-ranked counties in our region all had higher rates of children living in poverty. We know that poverty is inextricably linked to child health, and this relationship is shown in our study – the lower the poverty, the better the health outcomes.
One reason that the Foundation is committed to monitoring indicators like these is to find the areas that need the most attention and then to use that information to guide action. One of the strategies that we want to focus attention on is enhancing early childhood development, especially for children ages 0-5. We know from the science that there is a window of opportunity early in life during which the brain is particularly susceptible to positive interventions with long-term positive impacts. The Ounce of Prevention organization notes the following:
Science suggests that adverse early life experiences and environments – prenatally and in a child’s first years – can contribute to the health gap, leaving biological imprints on the child’s developing body and brain that can have strong and lasting effects.
So where do we start? Let’s look at the place where these kids live in our region. There are 582,507 kids ages 0-5 in this 13-county area and 70% of those kids live in Harris County. What if we chose to invest in a smaller county and one with rankings below the state average, such as Colorado County? We could convene a group of interested stakeholders and community representatives who are interested in focusing on the kids, ages infant to 5 in Colorado County. Since there are only 1,561 kids in this age group, perhaps we could begin to make an impact early on for all of these children.
Ensuring access to high-quality health care is a good place to start. Ensuring stable and responsive relationships is another area where research has shown positive impacts on children’s health, particularly in the neuroendocrine, stress regulatory and inflammatory and immune systems. A strategic focus on early childhood development could result in healthier children who can thrive in an early education environment, since health and education are mutually reinforcing. This is why EHF supports the 10-year vision of Early Matters, a regional focus (including these 13 counties) enhancing early education issues, specifically for the time-frame of zero to third grade.
Health matters. Education matters. Place matters.