Rising Child Obesity Offsets Gains

From Times Wire Services

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 Wednesday.

The annual report on U.S. child welfare from Duke University and the Foundation for Child Development also found that more children are living in poverty.

Those findings overshadowed the overall gain for U.S. children, who were found to be having fewer babies, smoking less and using fewer illegal drugs. The report’s overall measurement, called the Child Well-Being Index, has improved 4.5% since 1995.


But an estimated 15% of U.S. children now are overweight or obese, and studies show they are developing Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and even high blood pressure at rates that greatly raise their risk of heart disease.

Rising obesity has “completely obscured all progress made in the health category, dragging it 17% 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.

Among the report’s findings:

* The adolescent and teen birthrate has dropped from 20 births per 1,000 girls in 1992 to an estimated 10.9 births per 1,000 girls in 2004.

* Binge drinking among high school seniors has fallen from 36.9% in 1975 to about 29.2% in 2004. Binge drinking is the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in one setting, and respondents were asked whether they had consumed such amounts within the past two weeks.

* The number of youth offenders -- and victims -- has fallen dramatically since 1993. The number of youths age 12 to 17 who were victims of crime in 1994 stood at 120 per 1,000 children. The number of crime victims in that same age group was projected at about 45 per 1,000 in 2004.

“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.

“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.

The study was based on a series of statistical reports from the Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics and other government agencies.

The section on smoking, drinking and drugs used data from University of Michigan research.