September 29, 2005
Thank you, Dr. Alexander. I'm happy to be here today as we embark upon the promise of the National Children's Study. As you mentioned, the 2005 agenda of the Office of the Surgeon General can be summed up in six words: "The Year of The Healthy Child."
This is the most comprehensive agenda ever set forward by a U.S. Surgeon General for a single year. It includes all aspects of a child's life - body, mind, and spirit - starting with prenatal care and going through the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence.
The good news is that 82 percent of our nation's 70 million children are in very good or excellent health. Childhood immunization is at an all-time high. Our children are less likely to smoke and less likely to give birth as teenagers.
These are important gains in pediatric health. But we also have some very troubling issues - some new, some that have plagued us for years.
Today, 15 percent of American children are overweight or obese - that's 9 million children who are developing risk factors for chronic illnesses that may reduce the length and quality of their lives.
In the year 2000, the total annual cost of obesity in the United States was $117 billion. Imagine what it will be in 2020 if we cannot curb childhood obesity.
Fortunately, there is still time to reverse this dangerous trend. As parents and educators, it is our job to teach our children ways to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
Everyday more than 4,000 teens will try their first cigarette, and, every day, more than 2,000 kids become new regular, daily smokers. That's unacceptable, and preventable.
When President Bush nominated me to be Surgeon General, he asked me to focus on prevention on what each of us can do to make ourselves and our families healthier.
With that goal in mind, we designed "The Year of the Healthy Child," as a prevention effort. We want to prevent disease and illness and help all children get off to the best start possible.
A healthy child begins before birth, so we are highlighting steps that women should take to keep themselves healthy, especially when they are considering becoming pregnant.
This includes everything from eating a healthful diet and exercising to eliminating tobacco use and alcohol consumption to taking folic acid to reduce the chance of birth defects.
In addition to prenatal care, we are focusing attention on early childhood development.
As part of childhood development, we are examining the environments where kids spend most of their time. We as Americans spend between 85 and 95 percent of our time indoors - including at home, in a vehicle, in school, or at the office or other workplace.
As you know, secondhand smoke, lead, radon, and asbestos are threats to the indoor environment.
We now know that one in five schools in America has indoor air quality problems, which affect millions of children who don't even realize it. We need to get to the bottom of the problem, then work with engineers, designers, architects, and builders to solve this troubling issue.
And that's where The National Children's Study comes in. The study would help us map how our environments, habits, and activities affect our children's health.
It's one of the greatest prevention efforts the world has ever seen. We're looking to find the root causes of many common diseases and disorders. When we do, we'll be in a position to prevent them from ever occurring.
Stop for a minute. Think of how wonderful it would be if we could find ways to prevent asthma. Or at least find out who is most likely to get it, and lessen its severity. Or heart defects. Or attention deficit disorder or learning disabilities.
That's the promise of the National Children's Study.
Dr. Alexander mentioned how fitting it is that the National Children's Study is beginning in 2005, "The Year of the Healthy Child." I have high hopes for the study. What we stand to learn from 25 years of research would bring about improvements in health for decades to come.
And I believe the beginning of the National Children's Study, in 2005, will usher in "The Century of the Healthy American."
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation.