U.S. scores low in study on children's well-being

May 04, 2007|By Julie Deardorff | Julie Deardorff,Chicago Tribune

America is one of the richest countries in the world. It's also one of the worst industrialized places for kids to grow up and has a greater percentage of depressed people than impoverished, war-torn nations do, according to two major studies.

The first unflattering finding comes from a recent UNICEF child-welfare study that measured everything from the number of books in the home to infant-mortality rates, drinking and drug use and the percentage of children who eat meals with their families.

Of 21 wealthy nations surveyed, the United States ranked second to last. Only Britain was worse. Child well-being was highest in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, places that invest heavily in their children.

The problem isn't just that, compared with the European countries, the United States lacks day-care services and has poorer health and preventive-care coverage, which has left 9 million children without health insurance.

America finished dead last in terms of infant-mortality rates, vaccinations, the percentage of newborns with low birth weights and deaths from accidental injuries. We finished second to last when the researchers assessed a child's diet, physical activity and weight, exposure to violence and bullying and the number of 15-year-olds who smoke, drink and have sex.

And, in what could explain why we're among the most depressed people on Earth, according to a study of 14 nations conducted jointly by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School, we finished second to last when researchers examined relationships with family members and friends and family structure.

American children often don't eat the main meal of the day with their parents. Children say they don't spend time "just talking" to their parents. And they generally don't find their peers "kind and helpful," according to the study.

It shouldn't really be a surprise, then, that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, according to the WHO/Harvard study; that binge eating or drinking is up; or that children are heavily medicated for depression and attention-deficit disorder.

In material goods, American children have it all. But to make them feel loved, cherished and supported, they need family, community, a higher sense of purpose and meaningful cultural traditions - all things money can't buy.

Specialty Wikis

"Ask Dr. Wiki," a medical version of Wikipedia created by physicians, is the place to go if you want to view 91 free coronary angiogram videos. It's designed for health-care professionals, not laypeople, but critics of the Web site are raising concerns about the reliability of the information and are calling the Wikipedia model too simplistic for medicine.

Like Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that users can edit, Dr. Wiki is vulnerable to errors. But doctors are fallible. You risk getting bad information whether reading a peer-reviewed medical journal, having a face-to-face consultation or using online resources. Still, to make sure the content is safe and up to date, more safeguards will be added, according to the blog of co-founder Ken Civello, a Cleveland Clinic cardiology fellow.

Julie Deardorff writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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