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Gap in death rates narrows between rich and poor youths: Study

The U.S. has invested in the "safety net" for poor children in recent decades, widening healthcare coverage.
Reuters

Deathratesfor U.S. infants, children, teenagers andyoungadults are falling, particularly among those inpoorregions, likely due to social policies that have helped the most disadvantaged families, researchers said on Thursday. Theirstudy, using county-level U.S. Census Bureau data from 1990 to 2010, found that even with persistent economic inequality amongAmericans, thegaps indeathratesand life expectancy betweenrichandpooryoungpeople have narrowed.

"The health of the next generation in thepoorest areas of the United States has improved tremendously," University of Zuricheconomist Hannes Schwandt said. "Previous research has largely focused on diverging trends among olderAmericans, ignoring these improvements."

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"We are surprised about the remarkable mortality reductions among infants, children andyoungadults, and about how little a role this great health success story has played in academic and public discussions," Schwandt added.

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For example,deaths in the first three years of life for boys in the wealthiest counties dropped by 4.2 per 1,000 births to a rate of 5.53 per 1,000 births between 1990 and 2010. Thesedeaths declined during that time span by 8.49 per 1,000 births to 9.79 per 1,000 births in thepoorest counties. Figures for girls were similar. For males ages 15-19, the probability they would die within three years declined by 0.73 per 1,000 to 1.92 per 1,000 in the wealthiest counties from 1990 to 2010. In thepoorest counties, there was a decrease in this group of 2.73 per 1,000 to 3.10 per 1,000.

"It's the kind of good news that is hard to sell, opposing the popular narrative that 'Everything is getting worse,'" Schwandt said.

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Princeton University economist Janet Currie said the United States has invested in the "safety net" forpoorchildren in recent decades.She noted the expansion of the Medicaid program and the creation of the State Child Health Insurance Program to widen healthcare coverage forpooreryoungpeople as well as growth in publicly funded preschool programs and the expansion and improvement of child nutrition programs such as food stamps and subsidized school lunches.

"These programs are paying off in terms of lower mortality and better health for children. Since there is a great deal ofevidence that healthier children grow up to be healthier adults,these trends auger well for the future of these cohorts (populations)," Currie said.The research was published in the journal Science.

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