Children’s Health in Arkansas: Losing Ground on Key Measures

Note: This blog is the third in a series of posts covering the findings in the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2019 KIDS COUNT® Data Book. To read the first blog post on economic well-being, click here; to read the second post on education, click here; and read our press release here.

Monday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the annual KIDS COUNT® Data Book, which examines and ranks each state across 16 data points in four domains. Last year, Arkansas ranked 30th in child health when compared to other states. This year the state child health ranking fell from 30 to 37. A closer look at the individual indicators provides more insight into the areas where Arkansas has room to make progress.

This year’s Data Book shows that we have a lot more work to do to improve children’s health in Arkansas in the following key areas where we lost ground.

Arkansas ranks 42nd for the percentage of children born with low birth-weights, with an increase in 2017 to 9.3 percent — the highest rate since 2010. This figure is also slightly higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent.

Child deaths among children ages 1-19 rose in 2017 changing from rank 34th out of 50 states in 2016 to 45th out of 50 in 2017. Unfortunately, the rate of child and teen death also has not seen much improvement since 2010, which keeps Arkansas in the bottom 10 states.

We have maintained our focus on the children who do not have health insurance, with 95 percent of Arkansas’s children having coverage. From 2010-2016, there was a continuous decrease in the number of uninsured children in Arkansas, except for 2011-2012. Like the national trend, this trend reversed in 2017 when the number of uninsured children increased from 30,000 to 33,000 — the highest increase that the state has seen in at least seven years. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, along with Medicaid and CHIP, families have more affordable coverage options for their children than ever before. We must get to the root of why the number of children in Arkansas without insurance has increased, rather than continuing to decrease.

The report also includes data on the percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. The state’s rank is 7, with the percent of teens abusing drugs and alcohol in the state even with the national rate at 4 percent.

For the fourth consecutive year, Arkansas had a higher percentage of births to teenagers 15-19 than any other state. Although Arkansas’ teen births have decreased, (4,845 births in 2011 to 3,178 births in 2017), the state continues to be last in the nation for teen births.

The course forward should focus on obtaining and maintaining health insurance coverage, and identifying any health care challenges early and treating them quickly. Ensuring that children have the care they need early can have a positive impact on their academic performance, economic stability, and health and well-being later in life. Additionally, improvements are needed in addressing the teen alcohol and drug abuse. Finally, we need more education and better services in place to decrease the high rate of teen births. Arkansas still has a long way to go to get to number one in child health and well-being.

Download the entire 2019 KIDS COUNT® Data Book here. You can also find Arkansas-specific information at that page.