Melbourne, May 24, 2017: Children who grow up in poorer homes are more likely to experience puberty earlier than their peers, said an Australian study on Wednesday.
The study, published by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), found that boys in disadvantaged homes were four times as likely to being puberty at age 10 or 11, while girls were twice as likely, Xinhua news agency reported.
Researchers surveyed the parents of 3,700 children who were part of the ‘Growing Up’ Australia programme on how their children were maturing and the age at which they started to show signs of puberty.
Ying Sun, a visiting academic at the MCRIs from China and lead author of the study, said 19 and 21 per cent respectively of all boys and girls surveyed showed signs of puberty at age 10 or 11 but boys from disadvantaged home were 4.2 times more likely to be part of that group than boys from a favorable background.
She said the difference could be attributed to the bodies of children from poorer families perceiving themselves to be in a dangerous environment.
“I look at it as an evolutionary point,” Sun told Xinhua.
“I think humans are very sensitive to our early childhood environment… and when we feel we are in a dangerous environment our body tells us to fasten our speed of maturation to produce more kids to ensure our genes are passed on to the next generation.” The research has prompted concerns for children growing up in lower socio-economic areas, with early puberty being linked to a series of health complications later in life.
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“Early maturation not only links with emotional, behavioral and social problems during adolescence, it also carries several risks for later life such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and especially reproductive tract cancers, that is the most important thing,” Sun said.
Researchers were able to identify children from disadvantaged homes by gathering data on the annual income going into the household where they were raised.
The number of uninsured children in the United States has increased for the first time in nearly a decade, placing it at 3.9 million in 2017, according to a report Thursday from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.
Nationally, the number of uninsured children increased by an estimated 276,000 in 2017, from a historic low of 4.7 percent in 2016 to 5 percent last year. Experts say about 75 percent of the newly uninsured children are clustered in states that did not expand Medicaid such as Florida, Texas and Georgia.
Under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Florida and other states could take federal funding to help pay for health coverage for nearly 900,000 people, but the Republican-led Legislature in Florida voted against it. The vast majority of states have already expanded Medicaid and increased the number of residents eligible for its coverage.
Joan Alker, executive director for Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families, has written the report for the last eight years and said she’s never seen the rates of uninsured children go up in all 50 states, which happened last year.
Better economy, low unemployment
She said that what is perhaps most concerning is that the uninsured rate among children increased despite an improving economy and low unemployment rate that allowed more children to get private coverage through their parents.
The study blamed the increases on the Trump administration’s repeated attempts to prompt an overhaul of publicly funded health care. There were major efforts to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, and the children’s CHIP insurance funding also ran out and hung in the balance for months before Congress extended it.
“There was a lot of confusion among families as to whether these public coverage sources were available,” Alker said.
At the same time, the Trump administration slashed funding for advertising and enrollment counselors to help sign people up for these health insurance programs. The country’s enrollment decline was not just in Medicaid and CHIP, but also in Obamacare, or the federal marketplace where parents can purchase private health insurance and often receive a subsidy to help pay for it.
The report noted that many of the children who do not have health insurance are eligible for coverage but just aren’t enrolled.
‘More of a fluctuation’
Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the figures were statistically insignificant.
He did agree that there were dips in Medicaid enrollment and through the Obamacare marketplace, but noted there’s no enrollment cutoff for Medicaid, meaning families can sign up their children year-round.
“It’s really more of a fluctuation. There’s no policy driver there,” he said, saying he didn’t think marketing cuts had any impact.
In Florida, the uninsured rate went from 288,000 in 2016 to 325,000 in 2017.
Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country, and also has had the highest number of enrollees purchasing insurance through the Obamacare federal marketplace. However, Medicaid expansion in Florida is likely off the table for this upcoming legislative session. Incoming Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is against it. His opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, campaigned heavily on his support to expand Medicaid coverage for more residents.
The report also expressed concern that strict immigration policies and enforcement were making many immigrant families leery of enrolling, even if their children were eligible for health coverage. “We think it’s really this national unwelcome mat regarding public coverage,” Alker said. (VOA)