Federal Government Issues Second Annual Report On The Well-Being Of The Nation's Children

July 15, 1998

The federal government issued its second annual report today on the well-being of America's 70 million children, revealing some good news about their overall health and educational achievements. The report, "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being," offers a portrait of the nation's children, providing information on critical aspects of their lives, including their health, economic security, education, behavior and social environment.

"This report provides an understanding of the promises and challenges confronting our nation's young people and guides us in caring for them," said Katherine Wallman, Chief Statistician at the Office of Management and Budget.

According to the report, children, from infancy through adolescence, are off to a healthier start in many ways.

"We have some good progress to report -- more children are surviving their first year of life, with infant mortality at an all-time historic low," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

The report also shows a dramatic decline in the number of children with high blood lead levels, which can cause IQ or behavioral problems. Over the past two decades, the number of pre-school children with high blood lead levels has dropped from 88 percent to 6 percent.

"This is a public health success story of almost unprecedented magnitude," said Edward Sondik, Ph.D., Director, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It shows that the collection of this data, with subsequent, aggressive legislative action to bar lead in paint and plumbing supplies and to phase out lead in gasoline, has saved many children from permanent learning disabilities."

A majority of parents in the U.S. reported their children to be in very good or excellent health. Moreover, fewer young children and adolescents are dying and 77 percent of toddlers are up-to-date on their immunizations. However, the number of children without health insurance has increased in 1996 to 10.6 million children, up from 9.8 million in 1995.

The report indicates that the birth rate among adolescents declined between 1991 and 1996, from 39 to 34 births per 1,000. Much of this decline was due to the large drop in births to adolescent black females, ages 15 to 17.

While the report shows some overall positive trends in the health of young children, not all children are doing equally well. Between 1995 and 1996, there has been no significant change in the number of children living in poverty. Children under 18 still represent 40 percent of the population in poverty, even though they comprise only about one-quarter of the total U.S. population. Children in poverty are more likely to experience housing problems and hunger, are less likely to be immunized, and less likely to have a parent working full-time all year.

Overall, more young children are being read to by their families, participating in early childhood education, and improving their math scores on national achievement tests.

"By looking at these key indicators at each level of education, we can quickly see that while more children are entering preschool, improving in math and graduating from college -- high school completion rates and reading scores are stagnant," said Pascal D. Forgione, Jr., Ph.D., Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics.

As children reach their teen years, the report shows that they are encountering several problems. During the 1990s, the percentages of 8th, 10th and 12th graders who smoked daily, drank heavily, or used illicit drugs increased. The report shows that 25 percent of 12th graders smoke on a regular basis.

"Substance abuse and cigarette smoking are at unacceptable levels," said Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Since the early 1990s, we have seen a gradual increase in drug use, which we know is tied to a decrease in the perception of risk -- kids just don't think drugs are harmful," said Leshner.

The 23 indicators included in the report were chosen because they regularly measure critical aspects of children's lives. Two special indicators also included in this year's report are children's blood lead levels and children in child care. The report also recommends the development of additional indicators -- including more accurate measures of youth violence, a global indicator of youth mental health, and measures of long-term poverty and homelessness -- that would contribute to a fuller understanding of the overall condition of the nation's children.

The report, issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, represents a significant collaborative effort among the Federal agencies that report regularly on various aspects of children's lives. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics was founded in 1994 and formally established by Executive Order 13045 to foster coordination and collaboration in the collection and reporting of Federal data on children and families. Agencies within the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Management and Budget participate in the forum.

For more information on the report, contact the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, at (301) 496-5133. Free copies of the full report can be obtained from the National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse, (703) 356-1964, via the Internet at: http://childstats.gov, or purchased for $7.00 through the Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1800, publication number 065-000-01162-0.
A video news release (embargoed until 6 a.m. E.S.T, July 15) is available on Tuesday, July 14, 1998, from 3:00-3:30 p.m., E.S.T., C Band, Galaxy 3, Transponder 21, Downlink frequency 4120.

NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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