CHILDREN’S HEALTH: Shows Marked Improvement Nationwide
Declines in the teen birth rate, teen smoking, and deaths among infants, children and teens are only some of children's health indicators moving in a positive direction, according to the annual federal survey, "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being." Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said, "We're happy to report that the well-being of America's children has improved in several key areas" (Vanderkam, Washington Times, 7/9). While the childhood poverty rate remained stable at 19%, Alexander said, "Most of the indicators are going in the right direction." However, he added that the teen birth rate numbers are still "disturbingly high," saying, "It still shows we have a long way to go to get children as healthy and as well off as they ought to be" (Cooper, Washington Post, 7/9). Conducted by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the study reveals that births to teens aged 15-17 dropped from 33.8 per 1,000 in 1996 to 32.1 per 1,000 in 1997. After rising steadily since 1992, teen smoking rates declined in 1998, down to 22% among 12th graders, from 25% in 1997 (Washington Times, 7/9). Some experts suggested that the recent economic boom may have contributed to the decline in the teen pregnancy rate, as teenage girls "foresee attractive job opportunities." Susheela Singh, research director for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, said, "They have a more clear idea of what the benefit would be of succeeding in school and preventing that pregnancy." But, Alexander notes, the rate still trails that of other industrialized nations. It "should be in the teens," he said (Washington Post, 7/9).
On Other Fronts
The infant mortality rate also declined, from 10.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1983, to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1997. Dr. Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, said, "The findings on mortality represent a true success story. Fewer children die during infancy and the mortality rate for all children has continued to fall" (NIH release, 7/8). Negative trends include an increase in the percentage of low birthweight babies. In 1996, 7.4% of infants weighed less than 5.5 pounds at birth, compared with 7.5% in 1997. "This has been a puzzle and a problem for us for years," Alexander said. He noted, however, that the trend might be explained by the increase in multiple births resulting from assisted reproduction techniques. "The more babies you have (from one pregnancy), the less they're going to weigh," he said (Washington Post, 7/9).