Washington — 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 even greater progress in children's overall well-being during the past three decades, according to the Foundation for Child Development.
The Child Well-Being Index, which tracks 28 separate 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 teen 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 12-17 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 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 in the gains.
Parents who grew up in the 1970s and early '80s saw or experienced the effects of drug use and have been more assertive about controlling their own children's behavior, he said.
The study was based on a series of statistical reports from the Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics and other government agencies. The section on smoking, drinking and drugs used data from University of Michigan research.
In some categories, particularly health, America's children aren't doing so well. The obesity rate among children 6 to 17 has tripled since 1975 -- from about 5 percent to nearly 16 percent.
Test scores measuring academic achievement have remained stagnant during the three decades studied -- despite increases in per-pupil spending.
Also, the number of children 18 and under in single-parent households has increased over the past three decades. In 1975, about 17 percent of children lived in single-parent households. By 2003, that number had increased to 27.5 percent, with most of the increase occurring in the 1980s.