The 2011 County Data Book, released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates finds that Kentucky has made progress in ensuring low-income children receive dental services, yet much work remains to improve children’s oral health in the state.
This is the 21st annual release of the County Data Book, part of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT project. The KIDS COUNT project monitors progress for Kentucky's one million children on over 100 measures of child well-being, including health, safety, economic well-being, and education. This year’s book focuses on key state and county-level measures of children’s health.
“A child in poor health suffers and it reflects in their behavior, in their school work, and down the road in their future outcomes,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “If a kid is sitting in school with an aching tooth, they are less likely to learn the material at hand. And, when a child falls behind in school for an extended period of time, the odds of graduating from high school and securing a good job as an adult decrease. We need to take steps to ensure all kids are healthy because the future success of the Commonwealth depends on the well-being of today’s children.”
Oral Health Needs High in Kentucky
An opening essay incorporating input from some twenty Kentucky-based experts outlines improvement efforts underway in Kentucky and offers recommendations for next steps to change the oral health landscape. Kentucky has made some progress, seen by the increase in children enrolled in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) or Medicaid who received dental services -- from 38 percent in 2001 to 57 percent in 2010. However, the state recently received a “C” grade for its ability to provide oral health care to children and nearly one in three Kentucky children suffer from problems like cavities and bleeding gums.
Poor oral health is linked to diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, children with poor oral health care experience higher rates of emergency room visits, higher absentee rates from school, and less promising job prospects as adults compared to children who receive needed oral health care.
“There is no shortage of opportunities to improve children’s oral health in Kentucky – it’s simply a matter of making them a priority. For instance, we can expand oral health services in schools to reach children where they are for treatment, prevention and education,” said Dr. Jim Cecil, former Kentucky State Dental Director. “We also need to improve our statewide data collection systems on oral health to make sure our efforts are not only targeted, but bearing fruit.”
Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes Moving in the Wrong Direction
Six of the ten featured health indicators in the 2011 County Data Book focus on infant health, as a healthy beginning in life is vital to future growth, development, and health. Compared to the 2004-2006 time period, the earliest comparable data, fewer pregnant women in the state are receiving early and regular prenatal care. Also, compared to nearly a decade ago, more babies are being born preterm and at low birthweight. While Kentucky has experienced a slight decrease in the percentage of women smoking while pregnant, it still has the highest rate in the nation, with one in four pregnant women smoking at some point during pregnancy. Positive trends include gradually increasing rates for early breastfeeding initiation and a teen birth rate back on the decline after an unexpected uptick in 2006.
“We know that cigarette smoking by a mother during pregnancy is the single most important cause of low birthweight babies,” said Brooks. “Kentucky has very high rates of women smoking while pregnant – as high as 1 in 3 in some counties. Our legislature took important steps by raising the cigarette tax in 2009 and providing funding for tobacco cessation for Medicaid recipients in 2010. Yet we should consider raising the tobacco tax further, since research shows that pregnant women are highly responsive to increases in the price of cigarettes. In addition, a statewide smoke free policy in workplaces throughout Kentucky would reduce pregnant women’s exposure to secondhand smoke which is also linked to poor birth outcomes.”
More Children have Health Coverage, New Managed Care System Brings Changes
The other featured health indicators include the number of children enrolled in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) and Medicaid, childhood asthma hospitalizations, and two new indicators: early childhood obesity and access to recreational facilities. The numbers of children enrolled in KCHIP and Medicaid have significantly jumped over the last decade, due to a combination of more children qualifying for participation and improved outreach efforts.
“We saw a positive increase in the number of children enrolled in KCHIP and Medicaid from 2000 to 2010, which means more of Kentucky’s kids have the health care they need in order to be productive in school and life. However, a big change recently took place for almost 300,000 children on KCHIP and Medicaid as Kentucky moved to a statewide Medicaid managed care system,” added Brooks. “With such a significant shift in service delivery, it is critical that we monitor the cost savings, retention rates, and quality and access to services. But, most importantly, we have made promising progress over the years in ensuring more of Kentucky’s kids have health coverage, and we must do all that we can to ensure that the new managed care system takes care of our families and youth.”
A complete copy of the 2011 County Data Book can be found online at http://www.kyyouth.org/documents/2011_kids_count_county_data_book.pdf, and a state fact sheet can be found at http://www.kyyouth.org/documents/2011countydatabookfactsheet-KY.pdf. The data from this year’s book, as well as updated data on indicators of economic well-being, education, and safety, can be found online on the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/ky.