For the sixth time in nine years, Minnesota was the second-healthiest state for children when evaluating rates of deaths, teen pregnancies, high school dropouts and child poverty, a new national ranking indicates.
Still, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count report, released Monday, was hardly celebrated by child advocates in the state, who fear Minnesota's poverty rate -- higher than a decade ago -- could undermine its success.
Eleven percent of Minnesota children lived in poverty in 2008, a slight improvement from 12 percent in 2007 but up from 9 percent in 2000, according to the Kids Count data.
"Minnesota isn't doing very well compared to itself" a decade earlier, said Kara Arzamendia, research director for the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, which produced the local data for the national report. "We're not doing better by kids."
The state showed improvements since 2000 in its rates of infant mortality, child deaths, teen deaths, teen pregnancies and school dropouts. But Arzamendia said that increasing poverty threatens to pull those statistics in the wrong direction. Low family income can lead to unhealthy behaviors, deteriorating living conditions and an increase in crime, she said.
The fact that one in four children is now raised by a single parent won't help either, she said. "It comes down to simple economics. When you only have one income earner to rely on, that makes the family more vulnerable."
As with other child health indicators, Minnesota still fared better than most other states. Nationally, almost one in three children is raised by a single parent.
The state continued to show an increase in low birth weight babies. It dropped from third to ninth best in the nation.
Explanations for that trend include an increase in assisted reproduction such as in vitro fertilization, more women giving birth in their late 30s and 40s and a growing number of pregnant women with diabetes and hypertension. Poor diet and smoking have long been associated with low-birth-weight deliveries as well, but smoking rates have declined in Minnesota.
American Indian and African-American newborns continue to suffer higher rates of low and very low birth weights, the report said. That can lead to breathing problems, heart defects, impaired vision and other disorders.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744