Child abuse may come in many different guises - physical, sexual and emotional - involving neglect, abandonment, even parental drug abuse and AIDS.

But if Americans ever hope to break the cruel cycle of child abuse, they must first address the poverty, unemployment, drug abuse and stress that fuel the problem. That was the analysis offered Saturday afternoon by noted speaker, television personality and author Art Linkletter, 76.Linkletter - a man with a million jokes and anecdotes, as well as a wealth of common sense imparted in a folksy sort of way - kept about 200 Salt Lake Rotarians laughing, while still delivering a sobering message and encouraging them to keep up the volunteer fight against child and drug abuse.

"It's more important than the military or the nation's economy," he said. "This is our very country we're talking about."

Calling himself a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, Linkletter said Americans must nonetheless re-evaluate the tremendous costs of child abuse in terms of emotionally disturbed children, teenage motherhood, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, violence and costly rehabilitation.

"We become involved because we are human beings and because we should love and care for other human beings," Linkletter said. "But the other reason is pragmatic . . . as it's costing society millions of dollars."

For Art Linkletter, it took the drug-induced suicide of his youngest daughter to get involved. It was while overcome with grief that a friend, Norman Vincent Peale, advised him: "Go out and talk to young people . . . and, in effect, create a memoir to her in the hearts and minds of young people."

For the last 20 years, Linkletter gave up radio and television entertainment to speak to groups ranging from grammar-school children to the United Nations. He's traveled to the jungles of Thailand to negotiate with tribesmen to halt to drug running and he's visited inner-city streets to talk with drug dealers.

"I went out and learned about drug abuse from the kids who were in it," he said.

Linkletter said he is frequently asked why he no longer does radio or television programs _ the medium that took him into almost every home and made him recognizable around the world. "I tell them because this is much more rewarding," he said.

For the past two years, Linkletter has focused his energies on the tragedies of child abuse. He cited a litany of statistics to indicate the problem will not soon be going away: One in four children is born poor, one in five is at risk of becoming a teenage parent, one in six has no health insurance, one in three lacks basic fundamental skills to begin kindergarten. Some 500,000 children are seriously malnourished.

Every day, there were 16,200 new pregnancies, more than 7,000 of them teenagers. Of those who actually will be born, 72 will die before they reach one month. Almost 1,000 will be abused and 3,000 will run away from home.

"Why does society allow this to happen?" Linkletter asked.

Linkletter's appeal came during the 74th Annual Conference of the Rotary District 542. The Salt Lake Rotary has also been involved in volunteer programs to prevent child abuse.