Hunger, obesity accompany poverty for children

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Colorado’s economic recovery is leaving children behind.

High poverty rates for families with children bode poorly for the health of Coloradans now and decades down the road.

According to the 2014 Kids Count report, 224,000 or 18 percent of Colorado’s children were living in poverty in 2012, higher than at any time during the depths of the Great Recession. That number has steadily been climbing since 2000 when about 10 percent of Colorado children lived in poverty.

Gov. John Hickenlooper gathered with children from Indian Ridge Elementary School in Aurora after the unveiling of the 2014 Kids Count in Colorado report on Monday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper gathered with children from Indian Ridge Elementary School in Aurora after the unveiling of the 2014 Kids Count in Colorado report on Monday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is hoping that 2013 poverty data will tell a more positive story when it emerges. But he also fears that job losses have left more kids and their families struggling.

“Six and eight years ago, we lost a lot of middle class well-paying jobs,” Hickenlooper said Monday at the Capitol during the unveiling of this year’s Kids Count report.

Computers have improved our lives, but left us with fewer bank tellers and airport workers, he said.

“There’s a whole list of jobs we’ve lost and we haven’t made up all those jobs yet,” Hickenlooper said.

Poverty leads to a variety of poor outcomes. And those problems are most severe for Latino children. Along with faring poorly in school, children who grow up in poverty also have problems having enough healthy foods to eat.

“My biggest concern is nutrition and making sure (kids) eat properly,” Hickenlooper said.

Some kids can experience both hunger and obesity.

“They eat starch-based sugar-based diets that we know are going to create challenges down the road,” Hickenlooper said.

About 27 percent of Colorado children ages 2 to 14 are either overweight or obese. In Denver, that number has topped 41 percent. Studies show children who are overweight or obese are much more likely to struggle with their weight as adults.

Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the group that releases the Kids Count report, said racial and ethnic disparities are already pronounced among children.

“About one-third of Hispanic and black children are overweight or obese, compared to less than a quarter of non-Hispanic white children, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases that will plague them throughout their lives.”

Watney said Colorado has the eighth-fastest growing population of children in the country.

“That population is growing more diverse,” Watney said. “We must do more to ensure every child, regardless of race, ethnicity or family income, has the opportunity and supports to be healthy and successful.”

When it comes to getting kids health coverage and reducing teen pregnancy rates, Colorado is improving. Since 2000, the birth rate among girls ages 15 to 19 has fallen by half.

“That impacts two generations of Colorado kids: teen moms and their children,” said Sarah Hughes, research director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Health coverage is also improving, Hughes said.

“In 2006, Colorado ranked dead last for insuring its kids in poverty,” Hughes said.

These were children who could have gotten coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Plan, but for various reasons were not enrolled.

“We have more than cut in half (the number of uninsured children in poverty) since 2006,” Hughes said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in getting our poorest children health coverage. But they’re still about twice as likely to be uninsured as kids overall.”

The number of uninsured children overall has also been declining. On average, between 2010 and 2012, 8 percent of Colorado kids were uninsured, down from 14 percent between 2004 and 2006.

And Hughes said more families are getting qualified for other assistance programs including SNAP benefits.

“The percent of kids living in food-insecure households began to decline,” Hughes said.

By next spring, Hughes and other officials hope the poverty data will show Colorado children and their parents are finally rebounding.

“We’re hopeful that, for the first time in many years, we may see declines (in poverty rates),” Hughes said. “We hope it will look better.”

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