Although a new report offered a number of bright spots concerning the health of Kansans, the state's infant mortality rate is a low spot that demands attention from policy makers.
The annual state-by-state health rankings released this week by United Health Foundation showed that Kansas was one of the four most improved states in the nation when it comes to the health of its residents. Kansans, it said, are smoking less and driving more safely, and the state has a comparatively low rate of uninsured people and infectious disease. All of that is good news.
However, the report also shows that Kansas is losing ground in the area of infant mortality. According to statistics compiled by the foundation, seven of every 1,000 babies born in Kansas this year will die before their first birthday. That's fewer than the national average, but caused Kansas to drop one place in the state-by-state rankings.
Many factors affect infant mortality, a rate that a representative of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said reflects "the overall health of a society." Among the factors he cited were not only access to health care but also social services.
Although the report also cites a rise in the percentage of Kansas children who live in poverty - from 15.6 percent last year to 17.8 this year - a representative of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said she didn't think poverty should be linked to infant mortality.
It's true that SRS provides food stamps and other programs to promote infant health, but clearly some of the state's most defenseless residents are falling through the cracks. Even if help with nutrition and medical care are available, that help, for various reasons, isn't reaching all of the children who need it.
In some cases, factors that range from abuse to a lack of education can affect a family's ability or willingness to seek the help they need. Unhappily, a couple of situations that have found their way to court in Douglas County recently, illustrate how children can become innocent victims of unhealthy households.
The governor is promoting a program that would provide health insurance for all children who are 5 years old or younger. That's a worthy effort to try to boost the health and wellness of Kansas children, but state officials also must recognize that a whole range of issues from mental health to poverty also have a profound effect on the infant mortality rate and other child health matters.
A multipronged approach to making sure Kansas children get the help they need might raise the state's ranking in a national survey but far more important is the better health care that will go to infants and the long-term economic and social benefits for Kansas.