OTHER OPINION: A measurement of child health

Published 4:00 am Sunday, April 23, 2023

The WalletHub website regularly sends out information on national issues that breaks down the statistics by state. You can imagine where Mississippi ranked in its latest email about the “Best and Worst States for Children’s Health.”

According to WalletHub’s compilation of 33 categories, we rank dead last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Mississippi has the lowest percentage of children 17 or younger who are in excellent or very good health. We have the country’s highest infant death rate. We rank 48th in the percentage of obese children and 46th in the percentage of overweight children.

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As befits a rural state, Mississippi ranks poorly in the per-capita number of pediatricians and family physicians. We also have a high percentage of children whose medical treatment has created unaffordable bills for their families.

Among the nine specific measurements listed in the WalletHub email, the best we did was a 30th-place ranking in the percentage of children between 19 months and 35 months old with all recommended vaccines.

As has been evident for decades, Mississippi needs to take better care of its children — from the big-issue position of public policy to the at-home care provided by parents.

But Mississippi has plenty of regional company in this report. Next-door Louisiana ranks 49th, and Texas is 50th. Arkansas is 43rd, and Oklahoma is 44th. States to the east are doing better. Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina all rank in the 30s.

The surprise — a shock, frankly — is Mississippi’s other next-door neighbor, Alabama, which ranks 26th in children’s health. That’s an amazing achievement. Alabama is doing better than any Southern state except Virginia, which is 22nd — perhaps because of the northern part of that state’s proximity to Washington.

WalletHub did not provide enough information on Alabama’s child health care programs to show exactly why that state is outperforming Mississippi. But the difference clearly is in 11 measurements of children’s health and their access to health care. Alabama ranks 20th there while Mississippi is 51st — last yet again.

One possible reason is that Alabama’s cities are larger than Mississippi’s, and health care tends to gravitate toward population centers.

Here’s another Alabama surprise: According to the World Population Review website, Huntsville is now the state’s largest city, with a population of 220,000. The state’s other six-figure cities are Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile (each with 182,000 or more residents) and Tuscaloosa, with 101,000 residents.

In Mississippi, Jackson is the only city with more than 100,000 residents. Mississippi’s 3 million population is significantly lower than Alabama’s 5 million. This doesn’t fully explain why children in Alabama have a better deal than those in Mississippi — Louisiana has 4.6 million people and still ranks poorly — but we ought to take a look at what Alabama is doing. Apparently, they’re getting something right.

Originally published in the Greenwood Commonwealth.