Magazine article The Futurist

Threats to Children's Health

Magazine article The Futurist

Threats to Children's Health

Article excerpt

As diseases are conquered "new morbidities" threaten children's well-being.

The twentieth century saw childhood death rates plummet in the United States, and life expectancy at birth soared from 48 years to 77. But instead of polio and other fatal or disabling diseases, children of the twenty-first century face new threats to their health: obesity, early sexual activity, drug use, as well as gun violence, traffic accidents, and a variety of other interrelated problems.

These are among the "new morbidities" that threaten children's futures, according to Child Trends, a nonprofit research center supported by private foundations.

"There have been dramatic, even breathtaking, improvements in children's health in the United States in the last 100 years," according' to the center's recently released report, "A Century of Children's Health and Well-Being." Infant and child death rates have fallen dramatically, largely thanks to fewer deaths from diseases such as influenza and pneumonia.

But while there has been progress, much work remains to be done to assure healthy futures for children. Accidents are still the leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 14, and chronic health problems such as asthma are a growing threat. "Almost 5 million children in America now have asthma," according to Child Trends. The prevalence of asthma among very young children (0-4) is especially dramatic, up 160% between 1980 and 1994. "The cause of asthma is still debated, but attacks can be triggered by such things as pollution and stress," the report notes.

Even some of the health solutions of the past have had negative effects, according to studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For instance, some infants have become more susceptible to measles because their mothers were vaccinated: The mothers have fewer measles antibodies to pass on to their infants. If these infants are not then immunized according to the recommended schedule, they have a 33% greater chance of developing measles, the Academy warns.

Another health "solution" was airbags in automobiles, intended to reduce fatalities in traffic accidents. An unintended side effect has been increased injuries to young children riding in the front seat.

Many of the "new morbidities" are associated with risky, often interrelated behaviors, especially among adolescents. For example, the percentage of overweight adolescents grew steadily over the last three decades, Child Trends reports. …

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