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Survey Illustrates Rural Children's Health, Education Risks

A new survey from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration sheds some light on how rural children fare in the face of particular health and educational challenges, compared with children in other areas.

The report, The Health and Well-Being of Children in Rural Areas: A Portrait of the Nation 2007, is published every four years and was released in September. The report looked at children from birth to age 17. This kind of information is important for rural educators because, as classroom teachers say, it's more difficult for students to learn when they're hungry or sick.

This was the second time the federal survey has been conducted, and researchers collected information from parents on their children and surrounding environment. Some of the more interesting findings:
• Rural children are more likely to repeat a grade in school. The survey found that 12.6 percent of school-age children in large rural areas and 13.5 percent in small rural areas have repeated a grade, compared with 10 percent of urban children.
• Rural children are more likely to have public health insurance, while urban children are more likely to be privately insured. More than one-third of rural children had public insurance compared to 27.3 percent of urban children. Other children's parents reported their children either had private insurance or weren't insured.
• Rural children are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, asthma and diabetes, with 24.9 percent of rural families reporting one of 16 chronic conditions compared to 22 percent in other areas.
• Rural children are more likely to be poor, with 23.3 having families below the federal poverty level compared to 17.4 percent in urban areas.

"This national survey demonstrates how children in rural areas face particular health risks," HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield said in a news release. "Using the information provided by parents about their children will give public health officials a more complete picture for how to improve these children's health outcomes. HRSA's programs in rural health policy, maternal and child health and across the agency will look to these findings to inform our work going forward."

It's important to point out that parents' perceptions of children's overall health status doesn't vary substantially by location, with 84 percent of children's parents saying their children are in excellent or very good health regardless of where they live. The report suggested the differences for rural children could be chalked up to geography and demographic characteristics of their families.

The report found some health benefits for rural children, particularly in their connection to families and communities. Rural children were more likely than any other group to share meals with their families every day and to attend religious services weekly, 50.7 percent and 57.5 percent, respectively. And their parents were the least likely to report feeling parental stress.

The report
is chock-full of statistics and information on rural kids and their families that I couldn't cover here, so feel free to dig deeper. Just remember this survey was based on parental reports and not verified independently.

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