From Our 2009 Archives
Mixed Report on Well-being of U.S. Kids
U.S. Government Finds Slight Decline in Preterm Births; Illegal Drug Use Stays Steady
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
July 10, 2009 -- A new government report on children's well-being shows progress in some areas and little change in others.
The annual report looks at trends across a range of issues affecting children and teens, including preterm births, exposure to tobacco, and drug use.
After decades of steady increases, preterm and low-birth-weight deliveries declined slightly in the U.S. in 2007, but it is not yet clear if the downturn represents a trend, government health officials say.
Preterm births accounted for 12.7% of all deliveries, down from 12.8% the previous year. And 8.2% of babies born in 2007 were low-birth-weight, compared to 8.3% in 2006.
The statistics come from a new U.S. government report called "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2009."
Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told reporters on Thursday that the slight decline in preterm and low-birth-weight deliveries is welcome news. "Unfortunately, at this point we don't know if the decreases are the beginning of a trend or just a minor fluctuation."
Tobacco Exposure Way Down
The report presented a clearer picture of progress made in another key area involving the health of children and teens -- exposure to tobacco.
The latest government statistics revealed that:
"We don't often see drops as large as that," National Center for Health Statistics Director Edward Sondik, PhD, said. "The harmful effects of secondhand smoke are well documented, so this is certainly a significant step toward healthier living conditions for American families."
Heavy drinking among teens has also dropped significantly.
In 1998, about a third of high school seniors identified themselves as heavy drinkers, while one in four high school seniors reported being heavy drinkers in 2008.
Heavy drinking was defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in a row or during a single occasion over the previous two weeks.
The percentage of white and Hispanic 10th- and 12th-graders who reported being heavy drinkers was twice that of African-American 10th- and12th-graders.
Sex and Drug Use Stable
The incidence of illegal drug use did not change between 2007 and 2008 among teens, but reported drug use has declined significantly from the peak years of 1996 and 1997.
In 2008, 8% of eighth-graders, 16% of 10th-graders, and 22% of 12th-graders reported use of illegal drugs during the past month, compared to 15%, 23% and 26%, respectively, in these peak years.
The number of teens who report being sexually active has also not changed much in recent years.
During the 1990s, the percentage of teens reporting ever having had sex dropped dramatically from 54% in 1991 to 46% in 2001, but the number has remained relatively stable ever since.
The report revealed that:
Kids With Medical Needs
A special section of the report was devoted to children with ongoing medical needs.
Overall, roughly 14% of children in the U.S. have been identified as having a chronic health condition that requires services that are beyond those needed by children in general.
Among these children, 53% had allergies, 39% had asthma, 30% had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, 21% had depression or other emotional problems, and 15% had migraines or frequent headaches.
SOURCES: "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2009," U.S. government report, July 10, 2009. Duane Alexander, MD, director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Edward J. Sondik, PhD, director, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.
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