Policy Priorities

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Racial & Ethnic Disparities

Minority children in the United States — Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, and American Indian — are more likely to be uninsured than White children. This disproportionate lack of health coverage adversely affects children's health, growth and development from before birth through adolescence and into adulthood.

Nearly 8 million children in America are uninsured. That means 1 out of every 10 does not have any form of health coverage. Racial and ethnic disparities among those uninsured children are dramatic. Most recent data has found that one in 10 White children is uninsured compared to:

  • 1 in 5 American Indian children
  • 1 in 6 Latino children
  • 1 in 9 Black children
  • 1 in 9 Asian/Pacific Islander children

Children who lack insurance have been found to be less likely to have a regular doctor and to receive preventive care, and more likely to delay care, use less care, get poorer care, have unmet medical needs, and have poorer health.  As disparities in child health coverage by race and ethnicity persist, these outcomes have had an unduly negative impact on the health of minority children compared to White children. Although studies have found that only a small percentage of all children in America are in fair or poor health, Black children are more than twice as likely as white children to be in only fair or poor health, and Latino children are 50 percent more likely.

Breakdown of Uninsured Children by Race, Ethnicity in 2006

Learn more about uninsured children.


A disproportionate lack of health coverage is one of the many disadvantages that can affect a minority child’s chances of growing up to be a healthy adult. While Medicaid, CHIP, and other federally funded programs such as Vaccines for Children (VFC) have made significant strides in narrowing disparities associated with coverage and access to care, our work is far from complete. In order to ensure a healthy start for all children and reduce the glaring health disparities in life expectancy and chronic disease seen in adulthood, pregnant women and children must have access to affordable, seamless, comprehensive health coverage that includes regular health screenings and early identification and treatment of any health problems. However, as shown by statistics on coverage, prenatal care and infant health, oral health, asthma, lead poisoning and obesity, our current systems and policies fall far short of this goal.

Prenatal Care, Low Birthweight, and Infant Mortality

  • Almost one in every four pregnant Black women and more than one in three pregnant Latina women is uninsured, compared with one in nearly seven pregnant White women. Without coverage, Black and Latina mothers are less likely to access or afford prenatal care, and may not get the advice, examinations and screenings that they need to protect both their health and the health of their babies.
  • Babies born to Black mothers are more than twice as likely to die in the first year of life as White babies. Overall, the U.S. infant mortality rate ranked 25th out of 30 industrialized countries. Despite the fact that the per-capita GDP of the United States is five times that of Chile, seven states and the District of Columbia have higher infant mortality rates than Chile.
  • Black infants are almost twice as likely to be born at a low birthweight as White babies, and this disparity has held true since 1995. The high incidence of Black infants born at low birthweight increases the likelihood of a child having health and learning problems down the road. For instance, a child born at low birthweight is about 50 percent more likely to score below average on measures of both reading and mathematics at age 17.

Oral Health

  • Many children in America, but especially low-income and minority children, grow up without basic dental care. For dental-related illness alone, it has been found that children miss more than 51 million hours of school a year.
  • Two-thirds of Black children and about 61 percent of Latino children report receiving preventive dental care, compared to three-quarters of White children.
  • Among children ages 2 through 11, about one in five White children reported untreated dental caries, compared to more than one in four Black children and more than one in three Mexican-American children. Untreated caries can make it difficult for children to speak, eat and sleep, generally result in a decreased ability to learn and poorer overall quality of life.


  • Nationwide, 12.7 percent of Black children were reported as having asthma, compared with 7.8 percent of Latino children and 8 percent of White children. Puerto Rican children reported the highest prevalence of asthma of all groups, at 19.2 percent.
  • Research shows Black children have a higher prevalence of asthma than White children at all income levels. Even after controlling for numerous factors, research has found that Black children are 20 percent more likely than White children to be diagnosed with asthma and to have had an attack in the prior year.
  • Black children are more than three and a half times as likely as White children to have had an emergency room visit for asthma in the past year (263.7 visits per 10,000 compared to 73) and to be hospitalized for asthma than White children (59.2 hospitalizations per 10,000 compared to 16.9).
  • While asthma deaths are relatively rare today, Black children are six times as likely to die from asthma as White children (9 deaths compared to 1.5 deaths per million children).

Lead Poisoning

  • Exposure to lead at any level can be harmful to a child’s development and has been shown to cause learning disabilities, lowered I.Q., behavioral problems, stunted growth and hearing problems. Elevated blood-lead levels are four times as common in Black children (3.5 percent) as in White children (0.9 percent). Even when considering all children whose blood levels show at least 5 micrograms of lead, this disparity persists, as 17 percent of Black children have elevated lead levels compared with 4 percent of White children.

Childhood Obesity

  • More than a third (25 million) of American children are overweight or at risk for being overweight. One in four Black children ages 6 to 17 is overweight, compared with one in seven White children. Among Black teenage girls ages 12 to 19, more than 40% are overweight or at risk of overweight.
  • Children who are overweight or obese face a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems like stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Additionally, these children are more likely than children of healthy weight to become overweight or obese adults, and thus face a greater risk for health problems in adulthood, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.  Clinic-based reports and regional data suggest that Black and Latino children are also more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Mental Health

  • Minority children have high rates of unmet mental health needs. 88 percent of Latino children have unmet mental health needs. Although Latino children have the highest rate of suicide, they are less likely than others to be identified by a primary care physician as having a mental disorder.
  • Black children are more likely to be sent to the juvenile justice system for behavioral problems than placed in psychiatric care.