When Parents Lack Health Insurance, Kids’ Health Suffers

August 26, 2019

Children’s health was linked with parent insurance status, as well as with the overall physical and mental health of the parent, according to results of a new survey released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“We found that when parents didn’t have health insurance, or were unhealthy, or experienced emotional distress, their children’s health tended to be worse,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Senior Vice-President and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “What we heard from Chicago parents, which is consistent with studies in other communities, underscores that child health does not happen in a vacuum. The family context is crucial in our efforts to improve the health of children and adolescents.”

In their analysis, Dr. Davis and colleagues defined “better” health as that which was reported as “excellent” or “very good.” Health that was described by survey respondents as “good,” “fair,” or “poor” was referred to as “worse” health.

Survey results revealed that children with uninsured parents were less likely to be in better health (71 percent) than children whose parents had health insurance (84 percent). Lack of parental health insurance was associated with worse health in children even while 97 percent of children in the survey had health insurance themselves. In the survey, 80 percent of parents had health insurance.

When parents reported being in worse health, their child’s health also tended to be worse (70 percent of children were in better health, compared to 93 percent of children whose parents had better health status). Similarly, psychological distress in parents was associated with worse health in children (74 percent of children were reported to be in better health, compared to 83 percent of children whose parents were not in distress).

“These survey results tell us that we must focus on the health of the entire family,” says CDPH Acting Commissioner Allison Arwady, MD, MPH. “Child health is a two-generation phenomenon and we need to prioritize the health of both generations.”

Survey results are based on the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 3,310 adults, including 1,002 parents, December 2017 through June 2018. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health. 

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.