- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Today's 70.4 million American children are growing healthier and wealthier, the federal government says in its sixth annual report on the well-being of children, released today.

They are also less likely to die during infancy, less likely to smoke at a young age and less likely to give birth during adolescence, the government said in its report, "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2002."

The report, first issued in 1997, compiles recent data from 20 federal agencies and tracks trends in children's economic well-being, health, education and social environment.

The 1999 infant mortality rate of 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births is "a triumph of science and health performance," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is part of the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

In 1990, he said, the government set a 10-year goal of reducing the infant death rate of 9.2 deaths per 1,000 births to 7.0 deaths a 20 percent decline.

"We've done it a year early," said Dr. Alexander, crediting advances in preventing lung problems in premature infants and sudden infant death syndrome for the lower rate.

Today's children are also less likely to live in poverty, compared with the 63.7 million children in 1980, the report said.

Of children who lived in families in 2000, 15.6 percent lived in poverty, compared with nearly 18 percent of children in poverty two decades ago.

During the same time, the number of children living in families with high incomes more than doubled, from 21 percent in 1980 to nearly 43 percent in 2000.

In addition, the percentage of children who have at least one parent working full-time all year has steadily increased from 70 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2000, the report said.

Children are healthier as well: The percent of poor children in "very good or excellent" health has risen from 62 percent in 1984 to 70 percent in 2000, while the percent of healthy non-poor children has risen from 83 percent to 85 percent, the report said.

These key indicators are all "moving in a positive direction," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

Still, there's more to do, he said, noting that high school seniors still smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs at fairly constant rates.

Statistically significant improvements cited in the report include:

•The 2000 teen birthrate was 27 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, down from 29 births per 1,000 teens in 1999.

•Tobacco use by eighth-graders is down, with 5.5 percent of teens smoking daily in 2001, compared with 7.4 percent in 2000. Tenth-graders also smoke less, with 12 percent smoking in 2001, compared with 14 percent in 2000.

•In 2001, 58 percent of children ages 3 to 5 are read to daily by a family member, considerably more than the 54 percent in 1999.

•In 2000, 88 percent of children younger than age 18 were covered by health insurance, compared with 87 percent in 1999.

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