Child Obesity has more than tripled in three decades and the increased health risk associated with being fat has wiped out progress in other areas, according to a report issued on Wednesday.
The annual report on U.S. child welfare from Duke University and the Foundation for Child Development also found that the poverty rate for families with children hit 17.2 percent in 2003, the worst it has been since 1998.
Those findings overshadow the overall gain for U.S. children, who were found to be having far fewer babies, Smoking less and using fewer illegal drugs. The report’s overall measurement, called the Child Well-Being Index, has improved 4.5 percent since 1995.
But an estimated 15 percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese, and studies show they are developing type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure at rates that greatly raise their Heart disease risk.
Rising obesity has “completely obscured all progress made in the health category, dragging it 17 percent below 1975 levels,” the foundation said in a statement.
The index is based on various reports on health, income, educational status, safety issues, community involvement and emotional and spiritual well being.
A major plus, the report said, was the drop in the adolescent birth rate from a peak of 20.05 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 1991 to a projected rate of 11.5 births per 1,000 girls for 2003.
Fewer high school students were smoking or using illegal drugs. Just 15.6 percent of high school seniors smoked in 2004, compared to 36.7 percent in 1975. Illegal drug use has fallen from 30.7 percent of high school seniors in 1975 to 23.4 percent in 2004.
Violent criminal activity among adolescents fell by more than 64 percent since 1975, while the rate of violent crimes against children fell by more than 38 percent, the report said.
“If you took away the huge declines in crime, violence, and risky behaviors since the early 1990s, the picture for America’s children would be bleak,” said Kenneth Land, a sociologist at Duke University who developed the report.
Educational attainment, as measured by student test scores in reading and mathematics, has not changed despite efforts to improve U.S. education.
The median income for a family with children fell to $52,680 a year in 2001 dollars and is projected to continue falling as 2004 statistics are analyzed.
“In fundamental areas such as health, financial security, and education, our children are either doing poorly or barely treading water,” Foundation President Ruby Takanishi said.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.