Poverty explains black kids' higher disabilities rate

Monday, March 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Disabling chronic health conditions are more prevalent and have risen at a faster rate in black children than in whites nationwide, a disparity largely explained by poverty, a study suggests.

The results are based on annual national health surveys from 1979 to 2000 that asked parents general questions about whether their children had chronic ailments that interfered with daily life. Data on 419,843 children were analyzed, including 22,758 identified by their parents as having a disability.

The ailments were not identified but would include any chronic health condition that is physically or mentally disabling, such as asthma, diabetes, mental retardation and learning difficulties, said lead researcher Paul Newacheck of the University of California at San Francisco.

The prevalence of disabling conditions increased 47 percent over the years in whites and 77 percent in blacks. By 1999-2000, 67 out of 1,000 black youngsters and about 60 out of 1,000 whites had disabling conditions, and blacks were 13 percent more likely to be afflicted.

In 1979, the rate was about 40 out of 1,000 for both blacks and whites.

In the new survey, poor children were twice as likely to have reported disabilities. Lack of access to health care and treatment probably contribute to the disparity, Newacheck said.

The researchers did not determine why disability rates appeared to increase in both blacks and whites. But the reasons could include increased awareness about some conditions or changes in parents' attitudes about their children's health, Newacheck said.

The researchers acknowledged several limitations in the study, including the survey's subjective nature and the possibility that black and white parents have differing perceptions about the effect of chronic conditions on their children's lives.

The study appears in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, published Monday.

The poverty link shows ``that's really where we ought to be focusing our efforts, limiting those disparities by income, if we really care about the health of children'' Newacheck said.

Dr. Michael Macknin, head of general pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic, said many parents probably did not have an objective view of their children's condition. But Macknin, who was not involved in the study, said the findings echo other research suggesting that blacks are disproportionately affected by some chronic conditions such as asthma and obesity.