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What’s the top worry about children’s health? Obesity? Drug use? Bullying?

In a national survey, adults in different ethnic groups have varying concerns about children’s health. A second-grade teacher in North Carolina helps children read a Dr. Seuss book.
In a national survey, adults in different ethnic groups have varying concerns about children’s health. A second-grade teacher in North Carolina helps children read a Dr. Seuss book. The High Point Enterprise via AP

Years ago, a female student asked me whether her (male) professor was correct that she would never be successful working abroad because she was a woman.

I said: “I’ve done it. Why can’t you?”

I couldn’t quote research to her but assumed I could find some. A colleague and I started looking. We found lots of research on expatriates, but all of it was about men.

So we started a five-year project to learn what challenges and opportunities female professionals working abroad have. We interviewed women in Japan, China, Turkey, Mexico, Germany and other places.

We found that women can be successful abroad for reasons that men are not. Women are more visible (not as many in the workforce) and they are often more socially attuned, picking up on cultural differences quickly.

That experience came to mind when I looked recently for information about the biggest health concerns for children in the U.S. I saw a similar problem.

Across several sites, adults who were surveyed ranked the concerns like this: 1: Obesity. 2: Bullying. 3: Drug abuse.

But when I looked further, I learned that while these data seemed to suggest these were the biggest concerns for all children, they actually reflected rankings only by white adults.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital did a national poll in 2016 and asked white, black and Hispanic adults to rank their top concerns for children’s health.

For black adults, the top three were: 1: Bullying. 2: Racial inequality. 3: School violence.

For Hispanic adults, they were: 1: Bullying. 2: Obesity. 3: Drug abuse.

Lower-rated problems offered interesting differences too. Suicide was No. 8 among the top 10 concerns on the white adults’ list. Gun injuries were No. 7 on the black adults’ list. Teen pregnancy was No. 9 on the Hispanic adults’ list. Each ranked in the top 10 only on those lists, not in the others.

We need to understand different groups to get a full picture of our challenges and problems.

Until my student’s question, the data about success among people working abroad came only from men. Likewise, for children, we’ll need learn about different groups, rather than assuming all American children face the same challenges.

Different groups. Different data. Different conclusions.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University; nnapier@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the March 15-April 18, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of health. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).

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