Report Outlines Steps to Better Kids' Health

February 12, 2009 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Little Rock

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas children continue to face multiple health-care challenges, including lack of health insurance coverage, high rates of accident injuries, childhood obesity and poor dental health, according to a state report on children’s health.

A 30-group coalition is searching for ways to lessen those challenges and improve health and safety for Arkansas children.

Read the full report “We really want to stop being 49th on these health stats lists,” said Dr. Jonathan Bates, president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “This is the beginning of that.”

The coalition, called the Natural Wonders Partnership Council, released its latest report “Natural Wonders: The State of Children’s Health in Arkansas 2008” on Wednesday.

It’s a follow-up to the first Natural Wonders report from July 2007 that identified children’s health needs.

Arkansas has repeatedly received low marks on national health rankings. For example, the state placed 45th for the past three years in an annual ranking of children’s health, education and well-being by the Baltimorebased Annie E. Casey Foundation.

At a news conference at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service on Wednesday, Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe said recommendations in the latest report provide a “clear path” to improving children’s health statewide.

“With this Natural Wonders report we know the steps we have to take. Now we have to have the courage to take them,” she said.

Recommendations include getting more women and teenagers enrolled in Medicaid so they can access prenatal services, helping children find the safest routes to walk to school, improving health and nutrition education in the schools, and getting information systems that allow parents, doctors and schools to share children’s electronic health records when needed.

Some steps are already in the works.

Next fall, Arkansas Children’s Hospital will start a pilot program that uses a curriculum called HealthTeacher, developedby a Brentwood, Tenn., company. It’s being used in schools nationwide, said Scott Gordon, the hospital’s executive vice president.

The curriculum is for students in kindergarten through grade 12 and offers lesson plans of varying lengths and subjects for all grade levels. It covers multiple subjects, including anatomy, nutrition, exercise, mental and emotional health, and how to prevent injuries.

“It’s flexible so it can be used wherever the school deems most appropriate,” Gordon said.

More than 200 schools from 25 school districts around Arkansas have agreed to participate in the program. Children’s Hospital is covering the $125,000-a-year cost for the first three years.

To reduce preventable injuries and fatalities among Arkansas children, the hospital opened its Injury Prevention Center last April. The center teaches about, and is an advocate for, a number of topics, including driver safety, all-terrain vehicles and home safety.

Arkansas children are 20 percent to 30 percent more likely to die from preventable accidents than children in other states, Bates said.

“There’s nothing worse than losing a child or having a child be disabled because of something that could have been prevented,” said Dr. Mary Aitken, the center’s medical director. “We can avoid some of these tragedies.”

Center workers have led classes and educational events at schools statewide to teach kids about motor-vehicle safety, said Aitken, also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The center also supports a “graduated driver’s license” bill now before the state Legislature that would limit teenagers’ driving, including the hours during which they’d be allowed to drive. Such laws have helped reduce teen death rates from motor-vehicle accidents by 20 percent in other states, she said.

While Arkansas has a long way to go to improve the health of its children, the challenges are less overwhelming each day as more groups become involved, Aitken said.

“The awareness is growing, and we’re starting to take the right steps,” she said.

The Natural Wonders Partnership Council includes nearly 30 groups, including Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Arkansas Center for Health Care Improvement, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The report is available online at

This article was published Thursday, February 12, 2009. Arkansas, Pages 13, 20 on 02/12/2009