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Lack of Health Care Access Raises Pesticide Threat to Farm Worker Children

(Beyond Pesticides, December 4, 2008) According to a new study published in the December issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children of U.S. farm workers are three times more likely than other children to have no health insurance coverage. This problem is worst among migrant and immigrant families. The situation limits farm worker children’s access to health care, elevating the adverse impact of pesticide exposure and poisoning.

The study, entitled, “Determinants of Health Insurance Status for Children of Latino Immigrant and Other US Farm Workers,” documents the findings of the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Agricultural Workers Survey which was administered to a total of 3136 parents with children younger than 18 years. The objective of the study was to characterize the health insurance status of farm workers’ children, which is currently an understudied topic. Researchers found that thirty-two percent of all farm worker parents, including 45% of migrant-worker parents, reported that their children were uninsured.

Farm workers’ children are uninsured at roughly 3 times the rate of all other children and almost twice the rate of those at or near the federal poverty level. Children were more likely to be uninsured if their parents were older, had less education, had spent less time in the U.S. and lived in the Southeast or Southwest, the study found. Researchers also noted that Mexican-American migrant children who travel across the U.S. with their parents are two to three times more likely to be in poor or fair health than non-migrant Mexican-American children.

“Health insurance improves children’s access to and use of health care services, making children’s health insurance an important proxy for children’s health care access,” wrote co-author Dr. Roberto L. Rodriguez, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, Austin and Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, and colleagues.

“Our findings highlight the particular vulnerability of U.S. farm workers’ children regarding health insurance coverage,” the study authors wrote. “These findings have important policy implications. They suggest that the low parental education among many farm workers as well as more recent immigration, which may in part reflect acculturation, negatively affect their children’s health insurance status.”

The authors recommend that programs aimed at extending insurance coverage for children should consider the unique social barriers that characterize this vulnerable population of US children. Moreover, there is significant regional variation that may reflect varying levels of insurance resources and eligibility from state to state.

“These social disadvantages may warrant increased efforts to enroll and retain eligible children in health insurance programs. Outreach efforts would need to consider other barriers that impede insurance enrollment and retention, such as the complexity of applications, language barriers, the inaccessibility of enrollment sites in rural areas and parents’ fear of using services or misunderstanding of eligibility guidelines,” Rodriguez and colleagues concluded.

Farm workers are among the groups most at risk for pesticide poisoning and long term impacts from these chemicals. Their families can be exposed to pesticides through contact with them and their clothing. Pregnant women working in the fields unwittingly expose their unborn babies to toxic pesticides. Farmworkers’ children are exposed to pesticides and often do dangerous agricultural work themselves. Statistics on poisoning drastically underestimate the true number of poisonings, since many cases are never reported for a myriad reasons including lack of insurance, rising health care costs that have heightened reluctance to seek medical attention, misdiagnosis from medical professionals and failure of workers to report incidences due to their legal status. Nevertheless, many have taken up the fight to protect the health of farmworkers.

For more on the health risks farm workers face, read Baldemar Velasquez’s article in Pesticides and You entitled “Oppression and Farmworker Health in a Global Economy.”

Source: Forbes Health News


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