America's Health Starts with Healthy Children

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America is examining how we live our lives and how the surrounding social, economic and physical environment can affect our health.

This chartbook examines the health of our children from different socioeconomic backgrounds in every state to document how healthy our nation's children are now and how healthy they could be if we as a nation were realizing our full health potential.

Children's health is the foundation for health throughout life, and measures of child health are important indicators of the overall health of our nation. This chartbook provides state and national data on two important and widely-used measures of children’s health: infant mortality and children’s general health status as reported by their parents.

This report also compares the current state of children’s health in the United States to achievable national benchmarks. For infant mortality, this national benchmark is set at the current lowest rate of infant mortality seen in any state among mothers with 16 or more years of schooling. For children’s general health status, the national benchmark is set at the lowest rate in any state of less than optimal health among children in families that both were higher income and practiced healthy behaviors. The gap between where we could be as a nation and the current status of children’s health represents unrealized health potential.

The data illustrate a consistent and striking pattern of incremental improvements in health with increasing levels of family income and educational attainment: As family income and levels of education rise, health improves. In almost every state, shortfalls in health are greatest among children in the poorest or least educated households, but even middle-class children are less healthy than children with greater advantages.

The differences in health between children growing up in the most advantaged social and economic conditions and all others contribute to unrealized health potential in every state. And there is room for improvement even in the most advantaged groups, as indicated by comparison with national health benchmarks reflecting a level of good health that should be attainable for all children in every state.