Background: Disparities in child health outcomes persist despite advances in medical technology and increased global wealth. The social determinants of health approach is useful in explaining the disparities in health. Our objective in this paper is four-fold: (1) to test whether the income relationship (and the related income gradient) is the same across different child health outcomes; (2) to test whether the association between income and child health outcomes persists after controlling for other traditional socioeconomic characteristics of children and their family (education and employment status); (3) to test the role of other potentially mediating variables, namely parental mental health, number of children, and family structure; and (4) to test the interaction between income and education.
Methods: This population-based cross-sectional study used data from the 2003 US National Survey of Children's Health involving 102,353 children aged 0 to 17 years. Using multivariate logistic regression models, the association between household income, education, employment status, parental mental health, number of children, family structure and the following child health outcomes were examined: presence or absence of asthma, headaches/migraine, ear infections, respiratory allergy, food/digestive allergy, or skin allergy.
Results: While the associations of some determinants were found to be consistent across different health outcomes, the association of other determinants such as household income depended on the specific outcome. Controlling for other factors, a gradient association persisted between household income and a child having asthma, migraine/severe headaches, or ear infections with children more likely to have the illness if their family is closer to the federal poverty level. Potentially mediating variables, namely parental mental health, number of children, and family structure had consistent associations across health outcomes.
Conclusion: There appears to be evidence of an income gradient for certain child health outcomes, even after controlling for other traditional measures of socioeconomic status. Our study also found evidence of an association between certain child health outcomes and potential mediating factors.