Annual Report on U.S. Kids' Health Shows Mixed Results

There's a lot of news in the annual report on U.S. kids' well-being. Some is good. Some is bad.

The statistics come from the federal government's annual statistical report, America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2006. Mandated by a presidential executive order, it's the work of 12 federal agencies.

"We see a mix of positive and negative trends," says Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

For nearly every piece of good news, there seems to be some bad. Fortunately, much of the bad news is also tempered with good.

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Some highlights and lowlights:

—The birth rate for unmarried teens continues its decade-long downward trend. But more than half of births to women aged 20-24 are to unmarried women. In 2004, 36 percent of American children were born to unwed mothers.

—Infant mortality dropped to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 children.

—But the percentage of low-birth-weight babies — 8.1 percent — is the highest ever recorded. The low- birth-weight rate is 13.7 percent for blacks, which helps account for black Americans having about twice the child mortality rate of white Americans.

—89 percent of children aged 0-17 are covered by some form of health insurance.

—But 17 percent of kids live in poverty. Moreover, 37 percent of America's children live in shelters, crowded quarters, or physically inadequate housing.

—82 percent of U.S. kids are in very good or excellent health, and 83 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months have had all their major vaccinations. But 18 percent of kids are overweight.

—Cigarette smoking is down and fewer kids than ever are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home. But binge drinking remains steady at 11 percent of eighth-graders and 28 percent of twelfth-graders. Illicit drug use is unchanged at 9 percent of eighth-graders and 23 percent of twelfth-graders.

—Fewer teens aged 12-17 were victims of violent crimes: down from 18 per 1,000 in 2003 to 11 per 1,000 in 2004. But the percentage of young people involved as offenders in violent crimes remained stable, at 14 per 1,000 youths.

—Math scores got better for fourth- and eighth-graders, and reading scores got better for fourth-graders. But reading scores dropped for eighth- and twelfth-graders.

By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2006. News conference with Duane Alexander, MD, director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, Bethesda, MD; Ed Sondik, PhD, director, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, Hyattsville, MD; Wade Horn, PhD, Department of Health and Human Services; and Valena Plisko, associate commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education.