Photo: Health research
Substantial racial and ethnic disparities were found for a broad set of harmful health-related issues in a new study of 5th graders from various regions of the U.S. conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital and a consortium of research institutions.
Black and Latino children were more likely than white children to report everything from witnessing violence to engaging in less exercise to riding in cars without wearing seatbelts.
At the same time, the study found that children of all races and ethnicities did better on these health indicators if they had more highly-educated parents with higher income or had the advantages of attending certain schools.
Although white children were more likely to have these advantages than black or Latino children, when children with similar advantages were compared, racial and ethnic differences for most health indicators were smaller or even absent.
The study is the most ambitious effort to date to investigate the potential drivers of racial and ethnic health disparities among preadolescents. Results emphasize the key role that schools and family income and education may play in health disparities.
The researchers examined 16 important health-related measures. Some key disparities included:
- Latino children were two times more likely than white children to see a threat or injury with a gun.
- Rates of obesity were nearly twice as high among black and Latino children, who also reported less vigorous exercise than white children.
- Black and Latino children were much more likely to report worse overall state of health.
- Black and Latino children were significantly more likely to experience discrimination (because of a wide variety of characteristics, like race and ethnicity, weight, and income).
- Black and Latino children were less likely than white children to wear a seatbelt or a bike helmet.
The study suggests that these disparities, which have been much more extensively studied in adolescents, have already begun at younger ages and that interventions and policies may need to start earlier than adolescence to help reduce racial and ethnic differences in child health. These behaviors, experiences, and outcomes can have serious, long-term effects, so that improving them may improve adult health as well. For instance, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children and adolescents, and patterns of not using seatbelts or bike helmets set as children may persist as they grow older.
Victimization by peers and obesity during childhood could also have psychological and physical health consequences later in adolescence and adulthood.