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Economic concerns impacting health of Bay Area children

Data darkens overall gains made in 10-year study by Lucile Packard Foundation

Children in the Bay Area are healthier overall than they were 10 years ago, but widespread economic struggles threaten these gains, according to a children's health index debuted today by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health.

The index uses a composite of 16 indicators to track the health and well being of California children. The numbers released today incorporate data from 1995 to 2006.

Both across California and in the Bay Area, children are generally healthier and better off than they were in 1995. Overall levels of health and well being rose 16 percent statewide, compared with 14 percent in the Bay Area.

The foundation created the index to give lawmakers and other decision-makers a benchmark to gauge how decisions, from health policy to household purchases, affect children, according to David Alexander, the foundation's president and CEO.

The data deals with five key areas - educational attainment, emotional well being, family economics, safety or behavioral concerns, and health. All these categories saw strong gains, according to Alexander, except family economics.

Alexander called the economic data "the great cloud around that silver lining."

The index shows family economic indicators dropped 21 percent across the state, and 9 percent in the Bay Area during the 10-year period.

"As goes the financial well being of children, so goes other things," Alexander said.

Financial concerns affect a child's health and wellness in a myriad of ways, according to Alexander. Parents who lose their jobs are more likely to lose their health insurance, or have less money to pay for healthy food, activities or other things that improve children's lives.

Even psychologically, children who live with cash-strapped, stressed-out parents can absorb those worries, affecting their emotional health, he said.

Alexander said he is concerned that "our hard-won gains over these past years might be at risk as we navigate our way out of the recession that we are in."

Black, Latino, Asian and white children showed similar overall gains in health and well being.

The index, known as the "California Index of Child and Youth Well-Being" was created by Kenneth Land, a sociologist at Duke University. Much of the data compiled is available at www.kidsdata.org.

The data also tracked children in California living in poverty. In 2007, 17 percent of children 17 and younger were living in poverty in the state. However, Land projected this percentage could jump to 27 percent in 2010.

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