Junkfood Science: Nifty kids

September 07, 2007

Nifty kids

This post got lost in the work shuffle but is still a goodie.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics recently released the 2007 edition of America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being report. This 207-page report gives a comprehensive overview of the key indicators of the health and well being of children. It received surprisingly little media notice, perhaps because it didn’t find the overwhelmingly doom and gloom news that the media loves to hype.

A spunky review appeared in the Denver Post:

Many fears about kids misguided

The World Health Organization defines good health as being a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." In other words, none of us is healthy. [Normal aging, it appears, isn’t healthful, either.]

Children, on the other hand, are a different story. And it turns out that much of our hand-wringing over the deteriorating state of our children's well-being has been a waste of time. If we're to believe government statistics - which I admit can be a huge leap of faith - kids are healthier than ever. ...

According to America's Children, around 18 percent of kids are overweight or obese - the same number it was in the last study. Which I suspect is the exact number it was when you were a kid. On the flip side, children living in homes classified as "food insecure" - which to the average human being means “poor" - also dropped. ...

Increasingly, kids are being read to by their parents, which is a key indicator of “wellness." And more kids are graduating high school then ever before, a key indicator that kids will one day find a half-decent job. Furthermore, despite the faithful concerns about overly sexualized television and music, fewer high school students are having sex these days. And the ones that are having sex use condoms more often. Those numbers add up to lower teen birth rates. Actually, the birth rate among teens hit a record low in 2005. The rate has dropped 40 percent over the past 15 years. ...

The “America's Children" study shows us that even if we experience some tribulations, our children, overall, are living impressively salubrious lives.

The report wasn’t all glowing news, of course, with the most notable areas for attention being the need to help alleviate socioeconomic disparities. But if you rely on the media for your news, you may be surprised that most of the findings were positive changes.

Our children start out full of joy, enthusiasm and imagination, and after years of being bombarded with scares about their food, health and the safety and security of their world, it’s incredible that so many enter adulthood as together as they do. According to America's Children:

In 2005, just under 5 percent of children ages 4–17 were reported by a parent to have serious difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or being able to get along with other people. From 2001–2005, the percentage of children with serious emotional or behavioral difficulties remained stable at about 5 percent.

Between 1980 and 2004, the death rate for all aged kids declined by about half. In 2004, the death rate for children ages 1–4 was 30/100,000 children and for children ages 5–14 was 17/100,000 children. Motor vehicle traffic accidents are the most common fatal injury among children.

About half the percentage of kids are smoking today as in 1995. In 2006, 4 percent of 8th-graders, 8 percent of 10th-graders, and 12 percent of 12th-graders reported smoking cigarettes daily in the past 30 days, compared with the respective 1995 percentages of 9, 16, and 22.

Heavy drinking, defined as having five or more alcoholic beverages in a row in the past two weeks, declined from 15 percent in 1995 to 11 percent in 2006 for 8th-graders, from 24 to 22 percent for 10th-graders, and from 30 to 25 percent for 12th-graders.

The growing alarm of parents and policy makers is inversely proportional to many of the actual problems among young people. Kids are pretty remarkable beings and we can learn a lot from their sense of joy and wonder about the world ... and that might be the most helpful thing for them, too.

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