NIH News Release
National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development

Thursday, July 8, 1999
3:00 p.m. EST
Contact: Robert Bock
(301) 496-5133

Federal Agencies Report On Nation's Children
Teen Smoking, Birth Rates Down
Children's and Youths' Diets Need Improvement

America's children are, on average, doing better in several respects than they have in recent years, according to the third annual Federal report, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being.

The report, issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, represents a comprehensive look at such critical aspects of child well-being as family structure, economic security, health status, access to health care, behavior, social environment, and education.

"We're happy to report that the well-being of America's children has improved in several key areas," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "Infant, childhood, and adolescent death rates are down, as are teen smoking, teen crime, and teen birth rates."

Statistics in the Forum report show other trends regarding America's children. For example, preschool enrollment rates are up. Most children and adolescents have a diet that is poor or needs improvement. In addition, 12 percent of America's children have difficulty performing everyday activities, most of whom have a learning disability or a limitation in the ability to communicate.

Infant, child, and adolescent mortality have declined, noted Edward Sondik, Ph.D, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The findings on mortality represent a true success story," Dr. Sondik said. "Fewer children die during infancy and the mortality rate for all children has continued to fall."

The infant mortality rate has dropped since 1983, from 10.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1997.*

Although the death rate for almost all groups of children has declined, the drop was greatest for black children from ages 1 to 4. From 1996 to 1997, the death rate for black children fell from 67.6 to 59.2 per 100,000. This rate, however, remained at almost twice the rate for whites, which was 31.6 in 1997.*

In 1996, the death rate for adolescents ages 15 to 19 was 78.6 deaths per 100,000. The death rate for this age group reached a peak of 89 per 100,000 in 1991. Among black males from ages 15 to 19, the death rate from firearms dropped, from 120.3 per 100,000 in 1995, to 108.7 per 100,000 in 1996. Firearm deaths for white males ages 15 to 19 were much lower than for black males, and also declined during the same period, from 27.9 per 100,000 to 23.1 per 100,000.

A new indicator [page 17] measures the quality of children's diets. From 1994 through 1996, most children and adolescents had a diet that was poor or needed improvement. Moreover, older children had poorer diets. For example, in 1996, for children ages 2 to 5, 24 percent had a good diet and 8 percent had a poor diet. The remainder had a diet that needed improvement. For those ages 13 to 18, only 6 percent had a good diet, while 20 percent had a poor diet. The Forum report explains that the lower quality diets of older children are linked to declines in their fruit and milk consumption. (For more information on this topic, see the accompanying backgrounder, "Healthy Eating Index Shows Most Children and Adolescents Have a Diet That is Poor or Needs Improvement.")

The 1999 Forum report also includes a special indicator [page 56] that shows 12.3 percent of America's children from ages 5 to 17 have difficulty performing everyday activities, such as understanding schoolwork, communicating, eating, or dressing. (For more information on this indicator, see the accompanying backgrounder, "Special Indicator Shows More Than 12 Percent of Children Have Difficulty Performing Everyday Activities.")

Although still high, smoking rates also declined among teenagers, the Forum report says. The percentage of 10th and 12th graders who smoked daily dropped in 1998 after having gradually increased since 1992. For 10th graders, the percentage dropped from 18 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 1998. Among 12th graders, it dropped from its recent high of 25 percent in 1997 to 22 percent in 1998.

Another area to show improvement was the birth rate for teenagers from ages 15 to 17, which dropped from 38.7 live births per 1,000 females in 1991 to 32.1 in 1997.

Regarding education, a higher percentage of children ages 3 to 4 were enrolled in preschool in 1997 than in 1996--48 percent, compared to 45 percent. Preschool enrollment increased most among black, non-Hispanic children, from 45 to 55 percent.

Other education indicators have remained stable, however. High school completion and college completion rates have not improved, and disparities exist between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. For example, the high school completion rate for blacks was 82 percent in 1997, and for whites, 91 percent. The high school completion rate for Hispanics in 1997 was much lower than for either blacks or whites, at 67 percent.

The percentage of high school graduates ages 25 to 29 who earned a bachelor's degree or higher remained relatively stable since 1996, at 31 percent. Again, whites (35 percent) were more likely to attain a bachelor's or higher level degree than were blacks (18 percent) or Hispanics (17 percent).

Serious crimes against children and adolescents are also down. For example, youth from ages 12 to 17 were the victims of violent crime at a rate of 27 per 1,000 in 1997, down from 44 per 1,000 in 1993. (More information on this topic is contained in the accompanying backgrounder, "Indicators of Youth Violent Crime and Victimization Show Continuing Declines.")

In some areas of children's lives, economic disparities have decreased. The percentage of children in families living in poverty who have received the combined series of vaccines has increased between 1996 and 1997, from 69 to 71 percent. In addition, the percentage of children living with their parents who had at least one parent working full time all year increased 5 percentage points to 76 percent from 1993 to 1997. A large share of this increase was due to the increase in the percentage of children living with employed single mothers, which increased from 33 percent in 1993 to 41 percent in 1997. Moreover, preschool enrollment increased among children living in poverty, from 34 percent to 40 percent.

However, while these areas show improvement, significant disparities in child well-being still exist, principally along economic lines.

There has been little change in the percentage of children living in poverty, about 19 percent, roughly the same as it was in 1980. Compared to children above the poverty level, children in poverty are more likely to be at a disadvantage. For example, poor children are more likely to have a significant disability, to live in substandard housing, and to receive inadequate nutrition. Children below the poverty level are also less likely to receive the complete set of childhood immunizations and are more likely to have difficulties in school.

There has been a growing income disparity reflecting a higher proportion of children in extreme poverty as well as in high-income families. Since 1980, the percentage of children living in families with medium income has fallen from 41 percent to 34 percent in 1997, while the percentage of children living in families with high income and the percentage of children in extreme poverty have risen, from 17 to 25 percent, and from 7 to 8 percent, respectively.

The Federal Interagency Forum was entrusted with creating the America's Children Report by Presidential Order 13045. The National Center for Education Statistics played a lead role in producing the final report.

Members of the public may obtain single copies of the Forum report through the National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse (while supplies last) at 2070 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 450, Vienna, VA 22182; telephone (703) 356-1964. The report is also available from the Forum's website at

Pre-release distribution: Members of the news media only may access the report at Type in the account name, cipaccess, and the password, cip2ja. Access will not be granted until you check the prompt indicating that you will abide by the news embargo of 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, July 8, 1999.