Massachusetts kids ranked No. 1 for overall well-being Tuesday in the 2014 Kids Count Data Book, an annual report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that takes the status of America’s children in the categories of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Using state and national data from 2012, Kids Count bumped Massachusetts to first overall this year from third place in 2013. Vermont and Iowa came in second and third. The lowest ranking states were Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi.
Massachusetts also came in first in education, second in health, eighth in family and community, and 13th in economic well-being.
The report says some of the largest gains for children since 1990 are in health. Medical and public health advances as well as increased safety regulations such as seat belts, car seats, and bike helmets, and increased insurance coverage through Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 have greatly reduced child mortality rates and improved health.
“With advances in neuroscience, as well as solid research on what works, we now know more than ever before about how to give children a good start and help them meet major developmental milestones throughout childhood,’’ Patrick McCarthy, the Foundation’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.
Here’s how Mass. children compare nationwide in the four main health indicators:
(The percent of live births with the baby weighing less than 5.5 pounds.)
– United States: 8 percent
– Massachusetts: 7.6 percent
Children under 18 years old without health insurance
– United States: 7 percent
– Massachusetts: 1 percent
Child and teen deaths (ages 1 to 19 years old) per 100,000
– United States: 26
– Massachusetts: 17
Teens ages 12 to 17 who abuse alcohol or drugs
– United States: 6 percent
– Massachusetts: 7 percent
The rate of uninsured children nationwide has fallen from 13 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2012. Children with health insurance are more likely to have a regular health care provider and receive care they need. Despite the gains, disparities still exist for African American, American Indian, and Hispanic children. American Indian children were half as likely as the national average to be covered by health insurance.
“The investments we have made in our children have helped them to be better prepared to succeed than children anywhere else in America,’’ said Noah Berger, President of MassBudget, the Massachusetts Kids Count group in a prepared statement. “Yet, far too many of our children are still being left behind. Working together, through our government, we can make sure that all of our kids have access, from their earliest days, to the basic supports they need to thrive.’’
Childhood obesity was one indicator that hasn’t improved nationwide, especially for low-income and minority children. The promising decline is for 2 to 5 year olds, the age at which long-term eating habits form, this finding is consistent with recent reports that have indicated the same.
The report attributes declines in infant mortality to greater access to prenatal care and healthier behaviors by the mother (such as not smoking). In another stand-out category, Massachusetts had the lowest teen birth rate at 14 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 years old. The nationwide average was 29.
“The dramatic decline in the teen birth rate stands out as one of the most positive developments for the well-being of our youngest children,’’ said the report’s authors.
Overall, the report shows gains nation-wide for children in health and education, but because of the recession, there were setbacks for children in the report’s categories of economic well-being and family and community. These were the areas where Massachusetts also faced setbacks.
According to the report:
“While state policies have always played a critical role in child well-being, particularly education and social welfare policies, shifts in where children live place additional importance on the next generation of state-level child and family policies.’’