Report: Number of Ill. Children with Health Insurance Increasing

February 7, 2007

Overweight and inactive children pose one of the most critical health-care challenges in Illinois, according to a report released Monday by the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children.

But the publication, “Kids Count 2007: The State of Children’s Health,” found good news in the increasing number of Illinois children covered by health insurance.

While 11.3 percent Illinois children lacked coverage in 2002, that number dropped to 10.4 percent in 2005. The rate is expected to drop further with the creation last summer of the All Kids program, a state effort to ensure every child has access to some health insurance, said Jerry Stermer, president of Voices for Illinois Children.

“When children hurt, they cannot learn. When we ignore their sickness and pain, we all pay the price later,” Stermer said.

The report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, drew on data from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

It assigned grades of good, fair, serious or critical to eight health topics: general child health, early childhood health, developmental and mental health, weight and physical activity, sexual health, death and injuries, environmental and community health, and health coverage and access.

The one area deemed critical was weight and physical activity.

Nearly 46 percent of Illinois’ school-age children spend two hours or more each school day watching television or playing video games, the report said. Weight problems are more prevalent among children who are poor or belong to racial or ethnic minorities, according to the report.

For example, half of Illinois youths ages 10 to 17 and living in poverty were found to be overweight or at risk of being overweight, compared to 21.6 percent of youth in higher-income families.

The report was released in a community health clinic located in the neighborhood of Little Village, which has one of the largest Mexican communities in the Midwest.

Despite its large concentration of young people, the neighborhood has just one park. A community effort is underway to raise support for a second one, partly to encourage physical activity among young people there.

The report also raised concerns about a rise in sexually transmitted diseases among young people.

While the number of babies born to teenagers decreased nearly 11 percent from 1999 through 2004, cases of young people being diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea increased nearly 31 percent from 2000 through 2005.

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