Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Kids Are Not Alright?

American kids are in pretty bad shape to a recent UNICEF report.  Charles Blow reported on the report in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. Consider this another entry in the How Bad Off contest over kid's health and well-being. The doom and gloom? The UNICEF report out last week ranks U.S. kids nearly dead last, at 26th out of 29 of the richest countries. It's amazing they're still breathing, our children, perhaps in part because we have such fine air quality here (not kidding).

How Bad Off? Blow reported some of the regular suspects of bad outcomes without as usual much context or nuance:
We have the highest teen fertility rate, and among the highest infant mortality rates. We have one of the lowest child immunization rates and lowest average birth weights.
Teen fertility rate?

It sounds awful until you consider the good news. Teen pregnancies have been falling in the US since 1991. True teen motherhood is no laughing matter, a well-researched percursor to poverty and all manner of unpleasant life outcomes (e.g., reality tv stardom).  But wipeaway the stereotypes, the stigma, the morality blinders when you see the words "teen" and "pregnancy" together and breath.

Graph Alert: Note the distortion of the teen pregnacy graph.  The Y axis makes it look like US teens are pushing out a massive amount of babies, much more than anyone else.  But if the Y axis went all the way to 1,000 than you might get a different picture, a more accurate picture of the birth rate per 1,000 births.  For every 1,000 births in each respective country about 35 babies are born to teen moms in the US compared to less than 10 in Switzerland, the country with the least teen births. You're not nearly as impressed with the numbers now, right?

Infant mortality rate?

Yes it's far from good news but it's due in large part to rising premature births, primarily babies born at or before 32 weeks (i.e. very pre-term):
In 2005, 68.6% of all infant deaths occurred to preterm infants, up from 65.6% in 2000.
Very preterm infants accounted for only 2% of births, but over one-half of all infant deaths in both 2000 and 2005. Because the majority of infant deaths occur to very preterm infants, changes in either the percentage of these infants or in their infant mortality rate can have a large impact on the overall infant mortality rate. Via CDC
So the real question should be how to prevent premature births, especially babies born before 32 weeks.

One of the lowest childhood immunization rates?

In 2011 only a mere 1% of kids two or under had not received any vaccinations here in the US. Over 90% of kids three and under received the standard childhood immunizations too (via UPI, from CDC). This is kind of a meaningless comparison since in all but 3 of the richest 29 countries more than 90% of young children are immunized. True, for herd immunity more it would be great to have a higher rate here but there's not much variation in the scores here. And New Jersey, really dismal showing. Honestly, fellow Garden Staters, don't take your kids to Newark airport if they're not vaccinated because those diseases are a plane or shuttle ride away.

Can't Get No Satisfaction?

Whatever it means about 84% of American kids rated their life satisfaction as "6" on some scale.  The majority of percentage scores range from the mid-80s to mid-90s among the other countries, so not a large spread here either.

Blow also listed a host of terrifying statistics,  a ghastly account of how many kids are abused, born to teen moms, drop out of school, ect. EACH DAY in the United States.  Frankly, pretty useless numbers if you ask me because the question many is that compared to...I don't know...the annoyingly perfect Finland?  Honestly, does anyone ever move to Finland?

Curiously I can't seem to find this one statistic anywhere...

How many less than helpful, anxiety-producing, irritating news articles, pieces of advice, ridiculous media messages assault parents EACH DAY?


Anonymous said...

Are you saying the infant mortality rate in the US makes sense?

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Not at all, my point is order to better understand infant mortality rate, let's look at why it's so high. Primarily it's due to premature births (and though I didn't mention it in the post it's also due in part inadequate prenatal care or medical care). The US also has one of the highest premature birth rates for a variety of reasons.

Though merely providing statistics like Mr. Blow gives some information, it's not nuanced obviously and as such I don't find it particularly helpful.