A national report released this week reveals that after decades of marked improvement, the status of children's health in America has deteriorated in the past decade.
And in some areas, such as teenage suicide, Utah children fare worse than those in other states, according to the first comprehensive "Profile of Child Health in the United States," compiled by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions.Among the key findings of the report is the fact that if the current trend continues, the nation will fail to meet nearly all of the surgeon general's 1990 health objectives related to child health.
The national report reveals declines in immunization rates and access to health care; skyrocketing child abuse figures; a doubling of the suicide rates for youths; and disturbing increases in obesity among school-age children.
It also shows improvements in accident rates.
Utah children scored high marks in some health areas; low scores in others.
For example, Utah, which currently ranks 14th in the nation for teenage suicides, has suffered a dramatic increase in the number of young people taking their own lives.
In 1960, five males and no females under age 20 committed suicide in Utah. By 1987, that number had risen to 18 males and five females, 15 under age 15. This represents an increase more than twice the national average.
"We are seeing younger children attempt suicide in recent years, even elementary-age children," said Dr. William McMahon of Primary Children's Medical Center's Psychiatry Department.
Sexual abuse of children continues to be a serious problem nationwide.
The national report states that in 1985, some 1.9 million children - 3 percent of all American children - were reported to state protective agencies for physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
Barbara Christopherson, manager of the Child Protection Team at Primary Children's, said reported cases of all types of abuse and neglect in Utah rose from 6,358 in 1982 to 11,319 in 1987 - a 78 percent increase. Substantiated cases of all types of abuse rose from 3,161 to 4,976 during that period, an increase of 57.4 percent.
Coinciding with national trends, Utah saw its most dramatic increase in substantiated sexual abuse cases, which increased 209.1 percent between 1982 and 1987.
Utah ranked better than the rest of the nation with fewer low birth weights. The national average is 6.8 percent.
Utah's immunization rates are also better than the national average but don't meet the 1990 objectives set by the surgeon general.
Can children's health status be improved? The report said it's possible only if America overcomes a number of barriers, including a variety of societal, cultural, technological, economic and political forces such as poverty, teen pregnancy and gaps among racial and ethnic groups.
The biggest obstacle, according to the study, is a fluctuating public policy and the fact that "approximately 12 million children have no health insurance, public or private."
Child health in Utah
Surgeop general goals: - 95 percent of children in day care facilities and public schools immunized.
- Injuries and deaths to children inflicted by abusive parents cut by 25 percent.
- Low birth weights in less than 5 percent of all live births.
- Suicide rate among people 15-24 reduced to below 11 per 100,000.
- 88 percent of day care children and 94.8 percent of school children meet immunization requirements.
- All types of abuse and neglect increased 78 percent from 1982-87.
- 6 to 6.2 percent of babies have low birth weights.
- Teen suicide increased by more than twice the national average.