As parents, caring adults and community leaders, we must create the conditions for healthy kids to thrive. This means recognizing and addressing the dangers children face when they live in unhealthy environments, reducing health-harming behaviors like smoking and substance use by children and around children, and building communities that make it easier for kids and families to make healthy choices about food and physical activity.

Unfortunately, Indiana comes in 35th for overall children’s health in the U.S. Recognizing this, a new statewide collaboration, the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, is bringing together business and community leaders to address the health of our citizens. The Indiana Youth Institute is joining this important effort to support building a healthier state from the child up.

Growing up in an environment with trauma and abuse creates lasting negative effects on children’s health, including slowing a child’s social and cognitive growth, raising their likelihood for obesity, tobacco and drug use, and inflicting long term consequences to their health and life opportunities. By understanding the co-occurrence and impact of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)*, we are better able to create positive interventions and conditions for change.

If we can reduce child and adult smoking rates, we can have a significant effect on Hoosier health. Indiana ranks 41st in the nation for the percentage of smokers, and an estimated 95 percent of adult smokers start smoking before age 21. More than 4,100 Hoosiers under age 18 become new daily smokers each year. In 2017, nine percent of Indiana high school students smoked cigarettes in the past month, and 14.9 percent of Indiana high school students used electronic vapor products. This is especially concerning, as teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to subsequently take up cigarette smoking.

Governor Holcomb has challenged Indiana to lower its infant mortality rate, as Hoosier kids infants are 24 percent more likely to die before their first birthday than the national average. Smoking is a significant contributor to problems arising during pregnancy and in the child’s development and health. Almost 1 out of every 7 pregnant women in Indiana smokes during pregnancy, a rate that is 68 percent higher than the national average. Smoking while pregnant is associated with a higher risk of miscarriage, low birthweight, premature birth, some birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Our state’s struggle with opioid use disorder is also taking a tremendous toll on our babies and children. Newborns exposed to opioids in utero have a 60-80 percent likelihood of suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition which impacts the child’s long-term growth, behaviors, language abilities, cognitive development, and academic achievement. Last year, Indiana had one of the nation’s greatest percentage increases in the number of children being placed in foster care. The Indiana Department of Child Services reported a sizable increase in the number of substantiated cases of abuse or neglect, with over half of the removals due to parental substance abuse.

Parental overdoses have both an immediate as well as a cumulative impact on children in the home. Children double their likelihood of developing addictive disorders when they come from homes where one or more adults abuse alcohol or drugs. While we do not yet know precisely how many Indiana children are living with adults struggling with opioid use disorder, we do know that these children are suffering and that immediate interventions are needed.

The prevalence of substance use disorder has captured recent headlines, but Indiana’s struggle with obesity is a longstanding problem that we have yet to effectively address. Indiana is the 10th worst state for adult obesity rates, and 1 in 3 Indiana youth ages 10-17 are overweight or obese. According to Julie Burns, CEO of Jump IN for Healthy Kids, in central Indiana the obesity/overweight rate is 25 percent higher than the national average, and three times higher than the goal of 15 percent. Burns stresses the importance of focusing on young children, as habits around food and physical activity are developed by age 5.

Healthy kids grow up with greater chances to be healthy adults, and are more likely to become productive and successful citizens. Far too many Hoosier children face the issues caused by ACEs, smoking, opioid use, obesity and are lost due to infant mortality. We support and applaud the efforts of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana. Local events to improve Hoosier health are taking place across the state, and we encourage everyone to find a way to contribute by going to www.healthierindiana.org. By collectively dedicating ourselves to these efforts, and by taking a multi-generational approach, we hope to increase the health and success of all Indiana residents.

The well-being of mothers and infants determines the health of the next generation.

In the 2018 State of the State address, Governor Eric Holcomb set the goal for Indiana to become the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality rates by 2024, challenging us to work together to improve conditions for infants. The governor labeled our current infant mortality rate as “unacceptable.” In 2016, 623 Hoosier children died before their first birthday. Indiana ranks 41st nationally for infant mortality, with our babies being 24% more likely to die before their first birthday than infants nationally. Indiana has lagged behind the national average for the past two decades.

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We all benefit when the next generation is healthy, safe, well-educated and economically secure. Indiana can be a wonderful place to be a child, but when we look at overall child well-being, it ranks as the 28th state in the nation. A deeper look at the data shows the disproportionate challenges and barriers to success faced by some children.

The Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) recently published the 24th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, part of a national effort to measure childhood well-being at the local, state and national levels using data in areas including health, education, economics, safety and family.

The 2018 Indiana KIDS COUNT Data Book shows improvements over last year in children’s health insurance coverage and teen pregnancy rates. Meanwhile, significant challenges remain in the areas of economics, safety and education. Furthermore, substantial inequities appear in most indicators when the data is disaggregated by race, place and income.

In his 2018 State of the State address, Gov. Eric Holcomb set the goal for Indiana to become the best state in the Midwest for infant mortality rates by 2024, challenging us to work together to improve conditions for infants. The governor rightly labeled our current infant mortality rate as “unacceptable.” Indiana is ranked 41st nationally, with our babies being 24 percent more likely to die before their first birthday than infants nationally.

Indiana’s black infants are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday, with this disparity widening over the prior year. Tony Mason, CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League, says “There are many socio-economic and health factors that put black infants at a higher risk of infant mortality than white infants. On a state level we need to address the issues of food access and quality care.” Jeni O’Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana Department of Health, highlights numerous programs aimed at infant health, including the new Liv pregnancy mobile app launched in November.

Child maltreatment is also rising with increasing substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, hotline reports and placements in foster care. Over the past five years, Indiana has seen a 58 percent increase in the number of children in foster care with 58 percent due to parent drug and/or alcohol abuse.

Leaders in government, education and community services all stress the importance of collective efforts, purposeful and consistent partnerships, to increase educational outcomes for all kids. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick says “Math and reading growth and proficiency impact student success, which is why we have placed an important focus on these subjects in Indiana. Compared to our sister states, we have made great strides.” Yet students of color and those with low incomes and other risk factors, such as homelessness, have lower educational proficiency rates. As Gov. Holcomb states, “We need to move those kids who are at the back of the line—the most disadvantaged among us—to the front of the line,” beginning with increasing access to quality pre-K programs.

Clearly, the conditions necessary for children to thrive are complex. Children growing up in poverty are significantly more likely to experience stress and deprivation that hinders development and school readiness, health and other outcomes. Indiana’s child poverty rates decreased, with 19.5 percent of Hoosier children living in poverty as of 2016, down from 20.9 percent in 2015.

Jennifer Walthall, secretary of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration, says her agency believes a two-generation approach provides the best solutions for reducing child poverty because it” addresses the needs of both children and adults in their lives together.” Mason points to providing youth with access to quality education and employment skills as key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Access to such multi-faceted interventions is vital for children of color, as black Hoosier children are three times more likely to live in poverty than their white peers (42.2 percent vs. 13.9 percent).

To ensure all Hoosier children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive and responsible adults, we must understand and work together to improve the conditions that support their success. Our goal with the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book is to spark conversations and action throughout the state. Whether working in a region, county, city, school district or neighborhood, the data can help further such efforts.

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(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Person Smoking

Children’s health is threatened by maternal smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, and teen tobacco use. An estimated 95% of adult smokers start smoking before the age of 21.

Maternal Smoking

  • Indiana ranks 35th for maternal smoking with 13.5% of expectant Hoosier mothers smoking while pregnant.
  • The rate of smoking while pregnant in Indiana (13.5%) is 69% higher than the national rate (8.0%).
  • Maternal smoking in Indiana has steadily decreased since 2008, when 18.5% of expectant mothers smoked.
  • Indiana has a higher maternal smoking rate than half of our neighboring states: Illinois (7%), Kentucky (20%), Michigan (12%), and Ohio (15%).

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