CHILDREN’S HEALTH: Some Health Factors Hit Record Lows
Child mortality, teenage pregnancy, child poverty and juvenile violence reached their lowest rates in 20 years, according to a report from the Federal Interagency Forum in Child and Family Statistics on children's health, the Washington Post reports. Even with such improvements, child health advocates said that racial disparities still persist, and the United States lags behind other industrialized countries and even developing nations in some categories. In 1999, 70.2 million Americans were under age 18 -- a population larger than at the peak of the baby boom in 1964. According to the report, infant mortality has declined nationally from 10.9 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in 1983 to 7.2 deaths in 1998, the latest year for which data are available. Still, among blacks, the number of infant deaths in 1998 was 13.7 -- more than twice as high as rates for whites and Hispanics. Twenty countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel, beat the United States in terms of infant mortality.
Teen Pregnancy Down
Teenage pregnancy rates declined to their lowest level ever. In 1991, the rate was 38.7 births for every 1,000 females between ages 15 and 17, while in 1998, the rate dropped to 30.4 births. African-American teenagers displayed the most improved teenage pregnancy rates, with a drop from 84.1 births in 1991 to 56.8 births in 1998. Hispanics, however, have the highest teenage birthrate, with 62.3 births, but that number is down from a peak of 74 births (Russakoff, 7/14). Additionally, childhood immunization rates improved 3% since 1997. In 1998, 79% of children ages 19 months to 35 months received vaccinations (AP/Omaha World Herald, 7/14). Duane Alexander, a physician and director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said, "The good news is that so many indicators are improving and keep improving. But even with teenage pregnancy, which just reached the lowest level ever recorded in this country, we have the highest rate in the industrialized world." Other health advocates lamented that there has been no decrease in binge drinking, smoking or drug use. Enoch Gordis, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said, "We have a war on drugs, but alcohol remains the No. 1 drug in cost to kids -- killing kids, destroying the potential of kids." Analysts added that "improved conditions could foster a healthier and less dependent generation, reducing pressures on schools, social welfare agencies and the health care system," but "persistent racial and economic disparities threaten to skew the benefits" (Washington Post, 7/14). To view the report in full, visit http://childstats.gov/ac2000/toc.asp.