Vermont shows how to raise healthy kids

A lifetime of good health starts in childhood. Health insurance, access to health care and regular exercise make for fit kids with long life expectancies. And nowhere in America are kids healthier than in Vermont.

Across a range of metrics, the Green Mountain State excels, according to the latest data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Fewer than one in four Vermont children are overweight or obese. More than 81 percent have access to medical and dental care. Nearly 99 percent have health insurance. And one-third of all Vermont children report exercising at least 20 minutes a day.

Vermont has been a pioneer in children's health reform.

The state's Dr. Dynasaur program, created in 1989, covered tens of thousands of low-income children long before the federal Children's Health Insurance Program came into being. Congressional authors modeled the federal program in part on Vermont's plan.

Vermont policymakers have worked for years to build partnerships between public and private institutions to promote children's health.

There's the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program, run through the University of Vermont; Children's Integrated Services, run through the state Department for Children and Families, which works to connect low-income families with young children to social services; and the Blueprint for Health, established in 2006 to improve health-care services and control costs.

Vermont's relatively small and prosperous population helps. States with higher percentages of low-income families tend to fall at the less healthy end of the spectrum, especially if those families are minorities with less access to health care. Nearly 40 percent of children in Louisiana and Mississippi are obese or overweight. Only 56 percent of children in Nevada and 59 percent in Idaho have access to medical and dental care.

Perhaps those states should study Vermont's model. The Green Mountain State is a lap ahead of the rest of the field.

Reid Wilson is the author of Read In, a political tipsheet published by The Washington Post.

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