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Kids Count: Maryland fell behind majority of states in childhood health indicators

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Kids Count: Maryland fell behind majority of states in childhood health indicators

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:30 am ET
By Danielle J. Brown
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Kids Count: Maryland fell behind majority of states in childhood health indicators
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Maryland has fallen in health rankings over the course of several years, according to Kids Count data from 2022. Getty Images photo.

Maryland fell behind a majority of states on markers of childhood health, as kids experience higher rates of obesity or being overweight and tens of thousands of children still do not have health care, according to a report released Monday.

The 2024 Kids Count Data Book, which is based on data from 2022, ranked Maryland 27th out of the 50 states for kids’ health. Maryland has been slowly falling in the rankings in recent years.

The 2024 ranking is down from 24th place in the 2023 report, which is based on 2021 data. And that was down from 18th place in the 2022 report, which reflected 2020 data.

“Maryland’s ranked fairly low compared to other states on health metrics specifically,” said Brandon Orr, president of the Maryland Center of Economic Policy (MDCEP). “It does suggest to me that there are things we can do to move the needle.”

Orr said that it’s hard to pinpoint why Maryland has been dropping in health rankings.

“There are a lot of moving pieces that go into that,” he said. “Whether that’s areas where Maryland might be slipping, but also where other states are making progress. It’s a difficult question to come up with a simple answer to.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation releases the Kids Count report each year, in conjunction with organizations across the country. The Maryland Center of Economic Policy is the state’s partner for the report.

The analysis spans a variety of topics to assess the well-being of children across the nation. In all other categories — education, family and community support, economic well-being — Maryland was still in the middle of the pack, but fared better than a majority of states.

That’s not the case for health. Maryland has either worsened in health indicators over the years, or has stayed stagnant and not improved, according to the report.

Maryland Department of Health spokesman Chase Cook said in an email Monday that the agency will review the new report closely and to continue its work to “improve children’s health in Maryland as well as the health of all Marylanders.”

The health category looks at four different indicators of health in children for state rankings: the percent of babies born at low birth-weights, the percent of children without health insurance, the rate of child and teen deaths, and the percentage of children who are overweight or obese.

“Exposure to violence, family stress, inadequate housing, lack of preventive health care, poor nutrition, poverty and substance abuse undermine children’s health,” according to the report. “Poor health in childhood affects other critical aspects of children’s lives, such as school readiness and attendance, and can have lasting consequences on their future health and well-being.”

Orr noted that there was a notable bump in the rate in deaths among 1- to 19-year-olds in the state in 2022.

The data shows that there were 404 child and teen deaths in Maryland in 2022, a rate of 28 deaths per 100,000 children. That was slightly better than the national average of 30 deaths per 100,000. But the number of deaths in Maryland has climbed steadily, from 350 in 2020 to 355 in 2021.

The data does not break down cause of death, but Orr speculates that it may have to do with increasing gun violence in recent years.

“From 2019 to 2022, the firearm death rate among children and adolescents increased by 46% (from 2.4 to 3.5 per 100,000). This translates to seven children per day dying by firearm in 2022,” according to KFF, a nonprofit health policy research organization, recently reported based on national data.

Orr also pointed to the percentage of children who are overweight or obese, which has been increasing in Maryland.

The recent data shows that about 36% of Maryland youths aged 10 to 17 were overweight in 2022, which the report classifies as children with a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile. Nationally, about 33% of kids nationally were overweight or obese in 2022, the report said.

In previous reports, about 32% of Maryland children and teens were considered overweight in 2021, and about 29% of Maryland kids were overweight in 2020.

“Those are two areas that we might look to, that stand out to me as to why we’re slipping in the rankings in ways that Maryland has control over,” Orr said.

The two other health indicators have been fairly stagnant in the last three editions of the Kids Count report.

The percentage of children born at a low-birth weight was 8.7% in 2022, which just about matches the national percentage for that year. Maryland’s percentage has fluctuated only marginally in previous reports.

The other health indicator is the percent of children who are not covered by health insurance. About 4% of Maryland children didn’t have health insurance in 2022. That’s below the national average of 8.2% but higher than 2020 data for the state, when 3% of kids were uninsured.

Orr noted that the report is based on data that is two years old, and said the General Assembly has taken recent actions that might improve Maryland’s ranking in future reports.

“As one of the intersections of this, we know that a large percentage of Marylanders who lack health insurance are immigrants,” Orr said. “So that’s the lens in which the General Assembly has been passing laws to expand access to medical care.”

During the 2024 session, the General Assembly passed the Access to Care Act, which prompts the state’s health insurance marketplace to seek a waiver from the federal government to allow Maryland residents to purchase an individual private health care plan, regardless of immigration status.

In 2022, the legislature also passed the Healthy Babies Equity Act, which extends federal health care coverage for prenatal and postnatal services to undocumented immigrants who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid if not for their immigration status.

But that law didn’t take effect until January 2023, outside of the scope of the latest Kids Count report.

Orr is hopeful those legislative actions and others will help Maryland scoot up the rankings again.

“I am under no illusion that we are going to jump to number one any time soon, but I am optimistic that, regardless of what the rank is, the outcome of kids will be improving,” he said.