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Tennessee ranks 48th in nation for child health

By Nadia Ramlagan, TN Public News Service

Tennessee ranks 48th in the nation for the health of its youngest residents, according to 2018 data released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says while the state has made strides in other areas, such as education, red-flag health indicators — including low birth-weight among newborns, and child and teen deaths — have increased.

Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, also are on the rise among young people. Kennedy says the Kentucky Department of Health is working to develop a childhood obesity task force, among other efforts.

“And we know that childhood obesity, and obesity in general, continues to be a problem in the state,” he added.

According to the Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book, 38% of children ages 10-17 in Tennessee are overweight or obese, compared with 31% nationwide.

Kennedy says access to health coverage continues to be a barrier for many families. Around 83,000 Tennessee children currently lack health insurance, mostly kids of color. He says that’s contributing to worse health outcomes among Black and Hispanic kids.

“Health disparities, I know that continues to be a focus with the Tennessee Department of Health, and it continues to be a priority with us at the Commission on Children and Youth,” he said.

Research shows children who are covered under a health plan are more likely to receive preventive care and developmental screenings.

Kennedy adds that examining state agency data by race is critical for fleshing out hidden health disparities among certain populations.