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Family Life

Poverty and Child Health

​Growing up poor makes everything harder. For many children, being raised poor limits their ability to reach their greatest potential.

Consequences of Poverty on Child Health

Children from poor families or neighborhoods are more likely than other children to have serious health problems.

Low birth weight

  • Poor nutrition and smoking during pregnancy are common causes of low birth weight.
  • These babies have higher rates of rehospitalization, growth problems, child sickness, learning problems, and developmental delays.
  • Babies born with a low birth weight are at increased risk of dying in the first year of life.  

Chronic diseases such as asthma

  • Poor housing quality and exposure to secondhand smoke are contributing factors.

Obesity and high blood pressure

  • Poor neighborhoods may not have safe playgrounds, parks, or organized sports for children. All of these things are barriers to a healthy body weight. 

Increased accidental injuries

  • Living in a home that is not safe and in a dangerous neighborhood puts children at greater risk of violence.

Lack of school readiness

  • Poor children are less likely to participate in organized activities and often do not have enough supplies or books in the home.
  • Low parental education and single parent families are complex factors that may interfere with school readiness.

Toxic stress

  • Being poor is stressful. It causes damage to the brain and to a child's overall physical and mental health into adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

  • Violence in the home, having a parent in jail, and emotional neglect increase the amount of toxic stress children face.
  • Children in poverty are more likely to have these experiences than those living above the poverty line.

How Pediatricians are Helping     

Today, 1 in 5 (about 15.5 million) children live in poverty in the U.S.—23% are under age five. The widest reach we have for kids under the age of five is through pediatricians.

Screening for economic risk factors

A pediatrician may ask a child, "Where does it hurt?" And now a pediatrician may ask the child's parent, "Do you have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?" It is impossible for a pediatrician to know who needs help without asking. See Struggling to Make Ends Meet? Your Pediatrician Can Help.

Pediatricians can tell parents about the benefits they are eligible for, as well as home-visiting and early education programs that their community offers.

Pediatricians, both individually and through state chapters of the AAP, are also working for policies that support poor families.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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