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Obesity and Poverty Temper Progress in Kids' Well-Being

Associated Press
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page A02

In many ways, children today are doing better than their parents did. They take fewer drugs, commit fewer crimes and have fewer babies.

If they would just lay off the chips and soda.

A huge increase in obesity and increases in young people living in poverty and in single-parent homes have held back greater progress in children's overall well-being over the past three decades, according to the Foundation for Child Development, a national philanthropy dedicated to helping children.

The Index of Child Well-Being, which tracks 28 measures, shows that since 1993 children have been engaging in less risky behavior. And while all is not rosy, the report says the overall well-being of children is improving.

Among the findings:

• The adolescent and teenage birth rate 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 percent in 1975 to about 29.2 percent 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 is projected at about 45 per 1,000 in 2004.

Kenneth C. Land, a professor at Duke University and author of the report, said a number of factors contributed to the improvement.

For example, the declining crime rate could be attributed to a better economy, the waning of the crack cocaine epidemic and an expansion of community policing, including more officers in schools.

Parents, too, have played a role, he said. Those who grew up in the 1970s and early '80s saw or experienced the effect of drug use and have been more assertive about controlling their own children.

Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the youth justice program at the Urban Institute, cautioned against linking trends to specific policy changes, saying improvements are hard to credit to government initiatives.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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