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Contact: Laila A. Bell, Director of Research and Data at 919-834-6623 ext. 225 |

 Where children live predicts a difference in life expectancy by as much as a decade

County data cards highlight local child health successes, challenges

RALEIGH—Where children are born in North Carolina makes a big difference in how long they live and the quality of their health, according to new county data cards released by NC Child.

A baby born in North Carolina County is expected to live 78.3 years. Across the state there are large differences in life expectancy by county of residence. In Watauga County children can expect to live an average of 81 years–on par with Japan where residents have the longest life expectancy of any major country. Drive over 100 miles west to Swain County and children’s life expectancy declines by nearly a decade to 73 years.  On average, children born in Swain County have life expectancies on par with children in Cambodia.

The county-level pictures of child health and well-being were produced by Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child.  Bell compiled data on social, economic and health outcomes for the data cards as a supplement to the North Carolina Child Health Report Card, an annual report released in partnership with the North Carolina Institute of Medicine that monitors the health and safety of children in North Carolina.

“Across indicators we see that a distance of fewer than 100 miles can mean the difference between positive or negative outcomes in children’s lives, a fact that simply cannot be explained by random chance or genetic predisposition,” said Bell. “These geographic disparities are a stark reminder of the profound impact the environments where our children live, play and go to school have on their long-term health opportunities.”

The data cards present a variety of indicators ranging from income and insurance coverage to asthma and infant mortality.

In North Carolina:

  • One in 15 births (6.6 percent) is to a mother who received very late or no prenatal care. Women who are uninsured at the time of conception may encounter administrative delays for Medicaid that prevent them from accessing prenatal care during the most critical period of their babies’ development.
  • One in 4 children (24.9 percent) lives in poverty. Research shows children who are raised in poverty have poorer health outcomes and are more likely to suffer from acute and chronic health problems as they age.
  • 595,240 children (6.1 percent) are estimated to be food insecure, living in households that struggle to provide enough healthy, nutritious food for all members of the family.
  • One in 11 babies (8.8 percent) is born at a low birth weight putting children at greater risk for developmental delays or future health complications including infant mortality.

“These health challenges are largely avoidable,” Bell said.

“We know that smart public policy decisions can help enhance local efforts to ensure all children in North Carolina live in homes and communities that promote their health and development.”

The county data cards identify three investments North Carolina can make to significantly improve the health of its children and families:

  • Strengthen access to health insurance for women of reproductive age by expanding Medicaid to cover adults below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.
  • Support infant mortality prevention strategies like the Healthy Babies Bundle recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force.
  • Invest in early intervention services to reduce the effects of developmental delays.

Click here to visit the county snapshot page: 

For more data about the well-being of North Carolina children, visit the KIDS COUNT Data Center online at:  



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