The nation’s fourth and eighth graders scored higher in reading and mathematics than they did during their last national assessment, according to the federal government’s latest annual statistical report on the well-being of the nation’s children. Not all the report’s findings were positive; there also were increases in the adolescent birth rate and the proportion of infants born at low birthweight.
These and other findings are described in America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2008. The report is compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a working group of Federal agencies that collect, analyze, and report data on issues related to children and families, with partners in private research organizations. It serves as a report card on the status of the nation’s children and youth, presenting statistics compiled by a number of federal agencies in one convenient reference.
“In 2007, scores of fourth and eighth graders were higher in mathematics than in all previous assessments and higher in reading than in 2005,” said Valena Plisko, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Education.
This year’s report also saw an increase in low birthweight infants (less than 5 pounds 8 ounces). Low birthweight infants are at increased risk for infant death and such lifelong disabilities as blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy.
“This trend reflects an increase in the number of infants born prematurely, the largest category of low birthweight infants,” said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. Although not all the reasons for the increase are known, infertility therapies, delayed childbearing and an increase in multiple births may be contributing factors.
The birth rate among adolescent girls ages 15 to 17 also increased, from 21 live births for every 1,000 girls in 2005, to 22 per 1,000 in 2006. This was the first increase in the past 15 years.
Among the favorable changes in the report were a decline in childhood deaths from injuries and a decrease in the percentage of eighth graders who smoked daily.
The Forum’s Web site at http://childstats.gov contains all data updates and detailed statistical information accompanying this year’s America’s Children in Brief report. As in previous years, not all statistics are collected on an annual basis and so some data in the Brief may be unchanged from last year’s report.
Members of the public may access the report online at http://childstats.gov. Alternatively, members of the public also may obtain printed copies from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Information Center, P.O. Box 2910, Merrifield, VA 22116, by calling 1-888-Ask-HRSA (1-888-275-4772), or by emailing email@example.com.
The Forum alternates publishing a detailed report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, with a summary version that highlights selected indicators. This year, the Forum is publishing America’s Children in Brief; it will publish the more detailed report in 2009.
The data tables and figures for all the indicators in this year’s brief are available at http://childstats.gov.
Family and Social Environment
The birth rate for unmarried women ages 15–44 increased from 48 births per 1,000 unmarried women in 2005 to 51 births for every 1,000 in 2006. The report describes a long-term increase in the unmarried birth rate between 1960 and 1994, followed by a “relatively stable” unmarried birth rate between the mid-1990s and 2002 and a rapid rise since 2002. A related measure, the proportion of births to unmarried women, also saw an increase; 38 percent of all births were to unmarried women in 2006, up from 37 percent of births in 2005.
The adolescent birth rate (among married and unmarried adolescents) increased from 21 births per 1,000 teenage girls ages 15–17 in 2005 to 22 births per 1,000 girls in 2006. The 2006 increase was the first seen in this measure since the increase between 1990 and 1991.
Measures of poverty status, secure parental employment, and food security did not change significantly from the previous year. In 2006, 17 percent of all children ages under age 18 lived in poverty. The percentage of children who had at least one parent working year round, full time was 78 percent, not different from 2005, but below the peak of 80 percent in 2000.
One measure, the proportion of children with any form of health insurance for at least some time during the year, declined, from 89 percent in 2005, to 88 percent in 2006. For 2006, the number of children lacking any form of health insurance coverage for the entire year was 8.7 million, or 12 percent. For each year since 1996, between 85 and 90 percent of children have had health insurance at some point during the year.
The measure on health insurance coverage also examined the type of health insurance the children had. For 2006, 65 percent of children were covered by private health insurance and 30 percent of children were covered by public health insurance. (Types of health insurance coverage are not mutually exclusive. In a given year, some children may be covered by both private and public health insurance and so may have been counted more than once.)
In 2006, 81 percent of children ages 19–35 months received the recommended combined five-vaccine series (often referred to as the 4:3:1:3:3 combined series), a proportion unchanged from the previous year. Overall, coverage with the combined series as increased since 1996. In 2006, coverage with the series was higher among White, non-Hispanic children (82 percent) than among Black, non-Hispanic (77 percent) or Hispanic children (80 percent).
The combined series includes 4 or more doses of diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and pertussis vaccines, diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, or diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and any acellular pertussis vaccine (DTP/DT/DTaP); 3 doses of poliovirus; 1 or more doses of any measles-containing vaccine; 3 or more doses of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine; plus 3 or more doses of Hepatitis B vaccine. The recommended 2008 immunization schedule for children is available at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/child-schedule.htm#printable.
Physical Environment and Safety
Injury deaths among children ages 5–14 declined from 8.2 per 100,000 children in 2004 to 7.7 per 100,000 in 2005. Also declining were injury deaths to adolescents ages 15 to 19 from 51.3 in 2004 to 49.8 in 2005. The report noted, however, that during the same time period death rates among adolescents due to homicides increased in 2005 for the first time since 1993.
The proportion of eighth graders who reported smoking cigarettes daily during the past 30 days declined, from 4 percent in 2006, to 3 percent in 2007. This is a substantial decline from 1996, when 10 percent of eighth graders reported smoking cigarettes daily. Other risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, were unchanged from their previous levels.
The proportion of infants born at low birthweight increased from 8.2 percent in 2005 to 8.3 percent in 2006. The report noted that the percentage of low birthweight infants has increased for the last two decades. The percentage of low birthweight infants was 8.1 in 2004 and 7.0 in 1990. The report attributed the increase to such factors as an increase in the number of multiple births, obstetric interventions such as induction of labor and cesarean delivery; infertility therapies; and delayed childbearing.
If your interest is more focused on adolescent health, I recommend reading the new report America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2008 along another recent government report, Adolescent Health in the United States, 2007. Copies of the Adolescent Health report can be obtained from its author, Andrea MacKay, at firstname.lastname@example.org, at the National Center for Health Statistics.