In this Voices of Child Health in Chicago report, we explore child health and how it is associated with factors at the family level, such as parent health, household income, and race and ethnicity, and with factors at the neighborhood level, such as local park use and perceptions of neighborhood safety. To learn more about these topics, researchers at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital teamed up with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) on the 2018-19 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. to ask parents from all 77 community areas in Chicago about their children’s health and their own health.
We asked parents about the health status of their children using a five-option scale. Children who were reported to be in “excellent” or “very good” health were grouped as having “better” health status. Children who were reported to be in “good,” “fair,” or “poor” health were grouped as having “worse” health status. In our survey, 19% of Chicago parents had at least one child who was in worse health. Older children (11+ years old) were more likely to be in worse health (20%) than children who were 6-10 years old (16%) and those who were 0-5 years old (13%), which is consistent with national trends. There was no difference in child health status by gender.
We also asked parents about their own health using the same “better” or “worse” health status groupings as for children. Consistent with our findings from last year, parents who had worse self-reported health status were more likely to have a child(ren) in worse health status (29%) compared with parents who had better self-reported health status (5%).
Additionally, children who had a parent who currently smoked cigarettes were more likely to be in worse health (29%) than children whose parent never smoked (16%) (Figure 1). Parental smoking has been associated with increased rates of child asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Children living in families with household income below the federal poverty line (FPL, which in 2019 was $25,750 for a family of four), were less likely to be in better health (75%), compared with children living in families with low to middle income (100-399% of the FPL) and those with higher household income (400% or above the FPL) (85% and 94%, respectively) (Figure 2).
Children from Non-Latinx White families were the most likely to be in better health (92%), followed by children in Non-Latinx Black families (85%), and children in Latinx families (76%). Racial disparities in health – i.e., worse health for children of color than for white children – was one of the major social concerns that Chicago parents had for youth in Chicago for the past two years. Research suggests that discrimination contributes to health disparities among youth.
Parents who had a child in worse health were less likely to report using their local park (69%) than parents who did not have a child in worse health (81%). When a child is in worse health, accessing local parks may be more difficult for families. Other research has found benefits of park use such as higher levels of physical activity for youth, which in turn is associated with reduced rates of obesity. In our survey, park use was not associated with parent health status.
Parents who reported feeling safe in their neighborhood most of the time or all of the time were more likely to have a child in better health (86%) than parents who only felt safe in their neighborhoods sometimes (79%), and those who said they mostly did not feel safe in their neighborhoods (70%). Other research has shown that adolescents have better mental health if they live in neighborhoods in which neighbors tend to get along and share common values (e.g., social cohesion) and count on each other to take action in the face of everyday problems (e.g., collective efficacy). This indicates that efforts to strengthen neighborhoods may have a positive impact on youth health and youth mental health in particular.