Child health in the United States: Recent trends in racial/ethnic disparities

Neil K. Mehta, Hedwig Lee, Kelly R. Ylitalo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


In the United States, race and ethnicity are considered key social determinants of health because of their enduring association with social and economic opportunities and resources. An important policy and research concern is whether the U.S. is making progress toward reducing racial/ethnic inequalities in health. While race/ethnic disparities in infant and adult outcomes are well documented, less is known about patterns and trends by race/ethnicity among children. Our objective was to determine the patterns of and progress toward reducing racial/ethnic disparities in child health. Using nationally representative data from 1998 to 2009, we assessed 17 indicators of child health, including overall health status, disability, measures of specific illnesses, and indicators of the social and economic consequences of illnesses. We examined disparities across five race/ethnic groups (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, non-Hispanic Asian, and non-Hispanic other). We found important racial/ethnic disparities across nearly all of the indicators of health we examined, adjusting for socioeconomic status, nativity, and access to health care. Importantly, we found little evidence that racial/ethnic disparities in child health have changed over time. In fact, for certain illnesses such as asthma, black-white disparities grew significantly larger over time. In general, black children had the highest reported prevalence across the health indicators and Asian children had the lowest reported prevalence. Hispanic children tended to be more similar to whites compared to the other race/ethnic groups, but there was considerable variability in their relative standing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-15
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Child health
  • Disparities
  • Ethnicity
  • Inequality
  • Race
  • Trends
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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