Problem/condition: Mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders (MBDDs) begin in early childhood and often affect lifelong health and well-being. Persons who live in rural areas report more health-related disparities than those in urban areas, including poorer health, more health risk behaviors, and less access to health resources.
Reporting period: 2011-2012.
Description of system: The National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) is a cross-sectional, random-digit-dial telephone survey of parents or guardians that collects information on noninstitutionalized children aged <18 years in the United States. Interviews included indicators of health and well-being, health care access, and family and community characteristics. Using data from the 2011-2012 NSCH, this report examines variations in health care, family, and community factors among children aged 2-8 years with and without MBDDs in rural and urban settings. Restricting the data to U.S. children aged 2-8 years with valid responses for child age and sex, each MBDD, and zip code resulted in an analytic sample of 34,535 children; MBDD diagnosis was determined by parent report and was not validated with health care providers or medical records.
Results: A higher percentage of all children in small rural and large rural areas compared with all children in urban areas had parents who reported experiencing financial difficulties (i.e., difficulties meeting basic needs such as food and housing). Children in all rural areas more often lacked amenities and lived in a neighborhood in poor condition. However, a lower percentage of children in small rural and isolated areas had parents who reported living in an unsafe neighborhood, and children in isolated areas less often lived in a neighborhood lacking social support, less often lacked a medical home, and less often had a parent with fair or poor mental health. Across rural subtypes, approximately one in six young children had a parent-reported MBDD diagnosis. A higher prevalence was found among children in small rural areas (18.6%) than in urban areas (15.2%). In urban and the majority of rural subtypes, children with an MBDD more often lacked a medical home, had a parent with poor mental health, lived in families with financial difficulties, and lived in a neighborhood lacking physical and social resources than children without an MBDD within each of those community types. Only in urban areas did a higher percentage of children with MBDDs lack health insurance than children without MBDDs. After adjusting for race/ethnicity and poverty among children with MBDDs, those in rural areas more often had a parent with poor mental health and lived in resource-low neighborhoods than those in urban areas.
Interpretation: Certain health care, family, and community disparities were more often reported among children with MBDDS than among children without MBDDs in rural and urban areas.
Public health action: Collaboration involving health care, family, and community services and systems can be used to address fragmented services and supports for children with MBDDs, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas. However, addressing differences in health care, family, and community factors and leveraging community strengths among children who live in rural areas present opportunities to promote health among children in rural communities.