The number of US preterm, low birth weight babies is decreasing.
The encouraging news: After several decades of steady increases, the
percentages of infants born preterm and the percentage born with low
birth weight declined slightly in 2007 in the US, according to a report
The bad news: In 2007, 18% of all US children ages 0 to 17 lived in
poverty, up from 17% the year before, Dr. Duane Alexander, Director of
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, noted at a telebriefing describing highlights of the US
government's annual report on the well-being of American children.
"Infants born preterm and of low birth weight are at increased risk
for infant death and they also have a greater chance of lifelong
disabilities such as blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy, making
this an extremely important indicator of child well-being," Alexander
According to the report, in 2007, the percentage of infants born
preterm (before 37 weeks of pregnancy instead of the normal 40 weeks)
was 12.7%, down from 12.8% in 2006. The percentage of infants born with
low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds) was 8.2% in 2007, down from
8.3% in 2006. "
"Both of these indicators of child well-being have been increasing
for years," Alexander noted, "so any easing of these trends is welcome
news. Unfortunately, at this point, we don't know if the decreases are
the beginning of a trend or just a minor fluctuation," he acknowledged.
The statistics on underage drinking also provide some encouraging
news. Heavy alcohol drinking by 8th grade students declined from the
most recent peak of 13% in 1996 to 8% in 2008. For 10th grade students,
heavy drinking declined from 24% in 2000 to 16% in 2008. For 12th grade
students, heavy drinking fell from 32% in 1998 to 25% a decade later in
But the data on the economic "health" of the nation's children are
"not so encouraging," Alexander noted. In addition to the number of
children living in poverty in 2007 noted above, the percentage of
children who had at least one parent working full-time year round was
77% in 2007, down from 78% in 2006.
"These indicators show children losing ground," Alexander said, and "they predate the current economic downturn," he noted.
On a brighter note, the report indicates that in 2007, 89% of
children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year,
up slightly from 88% in 2006.
Nonetheless, the number of children without health insurance at any
time during 2007 was 8.1 million, or 11% of all US children, said Dr.
Edward Sondik, Director for the National Center for Health Statistics.
"And we have no data for 2008 or 2009, when the economic downturn
really hit hard and when you'd expect to see the largest impact,"
The 216-page government report -- America's Children: Key National
Indicators of Well-Being, 2009 -- "strikes a balance between yearly
changes in children's status and long-term trends, which highlight
progress or warn of needed improvement," Alexander said.