A report out this week offered some of the latest news on children’s health in the United States. Researchers from Duke University and the Foundation for Child Development studied trends in the health of children up to eleven years of age. We always want the good news first, right?
Researchers found some (very) positive trends, including “dramatic improvements” in mortality rates. The mortality rate for children one to four years of age in 2005 was 29.4 per 100,000 births compared with 42.9 per 100,000 just eleven years earlier in 1994. Death rates in middle childhood fell by 27% during the same time period. Finally, lead poisoning levels have fallen by 84%. Now that’s news worth celebrating.
On the flip side, however, researchers confirmed what other studies (and a quick look around the mall) have suggested. The report says the overall health of American children is now compromised by higher obesity rates and an increase in the percentage of babies born with low birth weight.
While U.S. children overall have seen improvements in their well-being in recent years, American children aged 6 to 11 are four times more likely to be obese than similarly aged children in the 1960s, the report found. …The researchers found obesity among children in middle childhood is nearly four times more common than in children of the same age in a national survey in 1960s. For children aged 2 to 5, it is three times higher. …They also found that the percentage of babies born with low birth weight rose 12.3 percent from 1994 to 2005, an increase they said was likely tied to delayed childbearing among working mothers and an increased use of fertility drugs. Low birth weight has been linked in large studies to a higher risk of developmental and learning problems and to lower academic achievement. It also has been linked with higher rates of chronic health conditions.
Another recent report by a California-based health care provider estimates that the diabetes rate among pregnant women skyrocketed between 1999 and 2005, doubling in number. Researchers based their estimate on the records of over 175,000 mothers who gave birth in a consortium of hospitals between 1999 and 2005. Diabetes in pregnancy results in higher risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth. As mentioned yesterday, women who have developed insulin resistance can pass that condition on to their children.
Clearly, we have the medical knowledge and resources available to ensure the health of our children and save lives. The improvement in mortality rate is a testament to that potential. Nonetheless, we struggle with the most basic principles of healthy living, and our children are suffering for it. Diabetes and its associated risks as well as childhood obesity threaten to undo the benefits modern medical developments offer. And as for the rise in low birth weight, though the researchers chose to chalk it up to fertility drugs and older mothers, there are plenty of other primary causes for low birth rate, including poor nutrition, abnormal pre-pregnancy weight, smoking, anemia, multiple gestation and medications or conditions that inhibit nutrient absorption. Hmmm. How common might those be in women of child-bearing age in our country today?
The bottom line is this: our society has yet to make a real commitment to children’s total health and well-being. Every player in the game (schools, parents, businesses, government, etc.) could do better. Our conceptualization of health care is too heavily based on a condition treatment model. No condition? No care or concern necessary. Health is more than a lack of symptoms and disease. It’s a spectrum of wellness with lack of disease and symptoms not on the positive end but smack dab in the middle. We’re failing our kids with our low health expectations, which we pass down to them like we apparently do our myriad of medical conditions.