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Report: 'Status improving' for U.S. kids

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The number of children and adolescents in the United States living in poverty, giving birth or smoking is declining, as is the number without health insurance, according to a federal report released Thursday.

But the report, compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, showed that the incidence of asthma continues to rise among American children and that a decrease in infant mortality seen in the early to mid-1990s may have bottomed out.

The fifth annual report details youth health statistics compiled by a number of federal agencies, offering a comprehensive look at the well being of children and adolescents.

Read the full report on America's Children: 2001  

"The big news in this report is that children's status is improving and continuing to get better," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Among findings in the report:

  • The poverty rate for children dropped from 18 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 1999, the lowest rate in more than 20 years. In families headed by women, the poverty rate fell to 42 percent in 1999, down from 51 percent in 1980.
  • The number of children living in households where at least one parent had a full-time job rose from 77 percent in 1998 to 79 percent in 1999. In 1994, 74 percent of children lived in a household with an employed parent.
  • In 1999, the birth rate for teenagers between 15 and 17 was 29 births per 1,000 teens, a record low for the second straight year. The rate has fallen by about 25 percent since 1991, after rising by a similar amount between 1986 and 1991.
  • The percentage of children covered by health insurance rose from 85 percent in 1998 to 86 percent in 1999, the highest rate since 1995.
  • Fourteen percent of high school sophomores and 21 percent of seniors reported smoking daily in 2000, down about four percentage points from highs earlier in the decade. Among eighth graders, 7 percent were smokers, compared to 10 percent in 1996.
  • The infant mortality rate remained at 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998, the same rate found in 1997. The rate had declined dramatically in the early and mid-1990s from 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990.
  • More than 5 percent of children under age 18 had asthma in 1998, up from 4 percent in 1988 and 3 percent in 1981.
  • The causes of increasing incidence of asthma remain unclear. But in an introduction to the report, Edward Sondik, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, said it could be the result of better diagnosis of asthma, as well as changes in environment, air quality and access to preventative health care.

    While the report shows largely improving statistics in the well-being of children, 10 million still have no health insurance and 11 million still live in poverty, despite a increase in the number of families where at least one parent works.

    "That means that work is not enough to lift these children out of poverty," said Deborah Weinstein of the Children's Defense Fund. "It means that even again, in these best of times, we don't have the jobs with incomes ... that make it possible for children to get out of poverty."

    Another potential cause for concern: teen alcohol and drug use. Although fewer teens are smoking, the number using alcohol or illicit drugs as remained steady. Twenty-five percent of high school seniors reported using drugs in the past month, and 30 percent admitted heavy drinking.

    CNN Correspondents Skip Loescher and Kathy Slobogin contributed to this report.

    • Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics

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