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Can money buy good health? For kids, it doesn't hurt

October 8, 2008 | 11:03 am

When it comes to children's health, family income matters. So does education.

In an analysis of children's health across the country, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked states and the District of Columbia by children's health status and infant mortality -- as they pertained to family income and mother's education, respectively.

Overall, 16% of children in the United States have what the report called "less than optimal health." That status was based on information from parents -- and varied dramatically by region.

The gap in health status as linked to family income was greatest in Texas, with 44% of kids in poor families in less than optimal health, as opposed to only about 7% of those kids in relatively well-off families. The gap was smallest in New Hampshire, with 13% of poor kids in something other than perfect health, compared with 6% of kids from well-off families. (The differences changed through the middle-income levels as well.)

California wasn't far behind Texas, ranking 50 instead of 51, on the health gap list, with 41% of poor kids and 9% of well-off kids in not-great health.

The researchers also analyzed the link between a mother's educational status and the mortality rate of infants.  No state should have more than 3.2 deaths per live births, the researchers said. And yet, even Maine, with the smallest gap based on mothers' educational status, had 4.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The District of Columbia, with the biggest gap, had 11 per 1,000. California? It ranked ninth, with 5.2 deaths per 1,000 births.

Want a closer look at your own state and county? The foundation has included an interactive calculator for just that purpose.

The calculator shows the current percentage of adults with some college education and how the overall mortality rate (not just among infants) would change if that were to go up or, perish the thought, decline. For California, for example, the chart says 61% of adults have some college education and that there are 309 deaths per 100,000 people. If that were to go up by 5 percentage points, there would be 294 deaths per 100,000 people. Factor in the size of California's population, and the difference is significant.

Much to think about. Much to learn.

Says Alice M. Rivlin, co-chairwoman of the foundation's Commission to Build a Healthier America, in a news release:

"All parents want their children to grow up to lead long, healthy lives, but sadly, not all of our children have the same opportunities to reach those goals."

-- Tami Dennis