Lots of different things play a part in positive child development. Health, understandably, is at the top of the list. We work hard to make sure our kids have access to doctors and medicine when they are sick. But according to National Academies of Science, medical care makes up only 10 to 20% of what contributes to healthy outcomes for a population.
What else can impact a child’s health?
Diet and exercise are strong indicators of health. Obesity and access to quality, nutritious food can have a great impact on a child’s well-being. Children need to consume a variety of foods to help them grow. Leafy greens, eggs, nuts, fresh fruit, and many others are crucial in helping a child feel their best and be mentally prepared to take on the day.
When thinking of well-rounded health, we must also consider the environment our children are living in. What is the quality of the water they drink and the air they breathe? What is the condition of their living space? Are they exposed to mold or toxins? Certain living conditions can place a great strain on a child’s growth, like living in an apartment with faulty air conditioning, or a house with mold in the walls. If your child has gotten sick from any housing issues, contact an attorney or legal aid organization to see how the issue can be corrected or what options you have in breaking the lease to find a healthier, cleaner space.
There are also social and economic factors that impact health, such as family, community support, and the income and education of a child’s parents. Income and health feed into each other in many ways. Utilizing the health care system can be expensive and have a great impact on income. In addition, living in a low-income household can reduce access to the health care system. It can also create long term stress and trauma.
“Kids growing up in poverty are constantly releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which can give them short attention spans and short tempers. Physically, they feel the same kind of heart-pounding stress an adult feels after a car wreck. And they feel it all the time.”
– The Momentous Institute in Dallas
So, what can we as parents, providers, and community members do to ensure our children have access to everything they need to be healthy? For parents, being proactive is key. This means being dedicated to bringing children for regular check ups to reduce emergency care and seeking support groups among the community before a stressful life event occurs. It means making yourself aware of the resources available to you, so that if you find yourself in need, you know where to turn. Voting and speaking up at community events, such as PTO meetings (or even Thrive by Five meetings!), is also incredibly important. Your voice and experience can be used to shape policies that impact children across the county.
On the caregiver and provider side, the key to healthy outcomes for children in our car is understanding that all social determinants of health – social, medical, etc. – are closely connected. This means looking at a child’s health holistically. Are they tired at school or daycare? It might not be a medical issue, but an issue related to housing, anxiety over bullying, fatigue from lack of nutritious food or stress over something at home. Providers must also understand the services available to those in the community and be able to provide referrals when needed.
For more information about the social determinants of health and Pinellas specific statistics, please check the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg website.
Health and Mental Well-Being:
Access to nutritious food:
Legal help addressing housing issues: