LITTLE ROCK — A new report shows that Arkansas children are more likely to receive vaccinations, dental care and other health services than they were just a few years ago, although the state continues to lag behind most of the nation in many areas of children’s well-being.
According to the report released Thursday by the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, vaccination compliance among Arkansas children increased from 57 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011.
Also, 27 percent of Arkansas children ages 6-9 now have dental sealants, compared to 15 percent in 2009, and three new mobile dental clinics managed and staff by Arkansas Children’s Hospital have resulted in more than 2,000 previously underserved Arkansas children receiving dental care annually.
“Not only are we making children healthier, but we’re also saving lives,” Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe, honorary chairman of the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, said during a news conference Thursday at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
The first lady said the state’s primary seat belt law, which allows police stop drivers solely for failing to wear a seat belt, and the graduated driver’s license law, which placed new restrictions on teen drivers — both laws passed in 2009 — have reduced fatality and injury rates among teens.
“In 2010, there was a 59 percent reduction in teen fatalities on Arkansas roads,” she said. “In one year, 32 lives were saved.”
Beebe also said the state’s trauma system, approved by the state Legislature in 2009, is having a positive effect on children’s health.
“This program allows us to route injured patients to the best facilities for their care, and that is so important. Each year this system refers about 1,000 children immediately to Arkansas Children’s Hospital … the state’s only pediatric Level 1 trauma center,” she said.
The report also highlights areas where greater progress is needed.
“Nationally, 32 percent of children are obese in our country. Thirty-eight percent of Arkansan children are obese,” said Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which convened the council and funds its information-gathering work.
Doderer said efforts to address child obesity in the state include the HealthTeacher program, which assists teachers in educating students about health, nutrition and exercise, and the GoNoodle program, which introduces physical activity into the classroom.
The report notes that Arkansas’ child food insecurity rate is 27.8 percent.
“They don’t know where there next meal is coming from,” Doderer said. “I personally find this unfathomable. It’s not a position I’ve ever been in, and we are working to change the tide.”
Arkansas’ network of Feeding America food banks provided more than 34 million pounds of emergency food assistance in 2013, according to the report.
Other information in the report:
—The state’s teen birth rate decreased from 15.5 percent of all births in 2002 to 12.6 percent in 2011.
—The state’s youth smoking rate dropped from 36 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2010.
—The federal Affordable Care Act and the “private option,” the state’s program to use federal Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance for people earning up to 139 percent of the federal poverty level, are expected to extend insurance coverage to 500,000 previously uninsured Arkansans. As many as 40 percent of the state’s remaining uninsured children are expected to receive coverage as well.
The report, “Natural Wonders: The State of Children’s Health in Arkansas,” draws on a variety of sources, including existing databases, interviews and a phone survey of 1,000 households. The full report is available on Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s website, archildrens.org.