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Report: U.S. kids living longer, getting fatter

For teens, less smoking, drinking and getting pregnant

For teens,  less smoking, drinking and getting pregnant

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(CNN) -- Children in the United States are living longer, smoking less and graduating high school at higher rates, but they also are getting fatter, according to an annual U.S. government report released Friday.

The Report on America's Children 2003, released by the National Institutes of Health and the Census Bureau, as well as other agencies, evaluated children's well-being in economic security, health, behavior, social environment and education categories.

This year's report shows that overall, today's nearly 73 million children are doing better than ever before.

"Contrary to what many people may think, the nation's children are faring better in many respects than they have in previous years," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Improvements were seen in the childhood death rate, which reached record lows, and the infant mortality rate, which has been steadily decreasing. The study found the rate receded from about 11 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1983 to about seven in 1,000 in 2000.

U.S. children are giving up cigarettes. The number of teenagers who smoke daily dropped to the lowest numbers since the government began surveying in 1975. Seventeen percent of students in 12th grade reported smoking, while 5 percent of eighth-graders and 10 percent of 10th graders did.

The number of those finishing high school rose slightly to 87 percent in 2001, with more taking harder classes, such as honors-level English and math courses. Graduates in 2000 were also more likely than students in the past decades to have taken a foreign language class.

This is the first year the report has included the weights of U.S. kids, citing too much poundage as a serious public health concern. The number of children ages 6 to 18 who were overweight increased from 6 percent two decades ago to 15 percent in 1999-2000.

"That's two-and-a-half times what it was just 20 years ago," Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, told Reuters. "Even more striking than that ... if you look at the figures for black children, 22 percent of black children are overweight. ... This really is a major concern."

Among the report's other findings:

• Not as many teenage girls are having babies. The report said in 2001, there were 25 births for every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 -- down from 27 per 1,000 for this age group in 2000. The birth rate for African-American females in this age group decreased by nearly half -- from 86 per 1,000 girls to 45 -- from 1991 to 2001.

• Fewer children are living in families with married couples. The study reported that finding dropped from 72 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 2000, with Utah having the most in both years.

•  The number of children ages 3 to 5 attending preschool programs has risen. The numbers added up to 61 percent in 2000, compared with 42 percent in 1990.

• The child poverty rate, which remained steady at 16 percent overall, continued to decline for black children with females as the heads of household, down two points to 47 percent in 2001.

• Tenth graders aren't drinking alcohol as much as in the past. In 2001, 25 percent reported episodes of heavy drinking, while a year later, the rate was at 22 percent. Illegal drug use also dropped slightly in the same age group.


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