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Some Successes Seen in Report on U.S. Children

Health: Findings include drop in infant mortality. Officials note numerous measures did not change.


WASHINGTON — Fewer babies are dying. Fewer teenage girls are having babies. Smoking is dropping among eighth- and 10th-graders.

There's encouraging news in a report, released Friday, that brings together recent figures on the health, economics and education of about 70 million children in the United States. The report was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

Officials celebrated the successes but noted that there was no improvement on many measures of well-being.

The best news might be a substantial drop in infant mortality. In 1999, the report said, 7 of every 1,000 babies under age 1 died. That was down from 7.2 in 1998, continuing a decline throughout the 1990s.

The rate fell again in 2000, said a separate report also released Friday, to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 babies.

"It's a triumph of science and health performance," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Alexander attributed the reduction to clinical improvements in treatment of respiratory distress syndrome and a reduction in sudden infant death syndrome, achieved largely through a campaign to put babies to sleep on their backs.

Other positive trends include:

* Births among girls ages 15 to 17 dropped from 29 per 1,000 in 1999 to 27 per 1,000 in 2000.

* More children were covered by health insurance, up from 87% in 1999 to 88% in 2000. Officials credited the relatively new State Children's Health Insurance Program, which covers children in working-poor families.

* Fewer eighth- and 10th-graders smoked, though smoking rates for high school seniors were statistically unchanged. Last year, 5.5% of eighth-graders smoked, down from 7.4% in 2000; among 10th-graders, 12% smoked, down from 14%.

* More children were read to every day by a family member, 58% last year, up from 54% in 1999.

* More youngsters ages 2 to 5 had a good diet--27% in 1998, up from 21% in 1996.

Numerous measures did not change: In 2000, 16% of children lived in poverty, 76% of toddlers got the recommended immunizations and 87% of young adults finished high school. Drug and alcohol use among junior high and high school students held steady.

In a special feature this year, the report found that in 2001, 19% of children had at least one parent born outside the United States, up from 14% in 1994.

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