Transcript of the Audio News Briefing for the America's Children Report, 2010

America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2010

Media Telebriefing

1:30 p.m.
July 6, 2010

Bob Bock
Public Information Office
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
National Institutes of Health]

Mr. Bock: Thank you. Welcome to the National Institutes of Health. Here, today, we will have a briefing, and the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics will release America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2010.

The release is embargoed for Friday, July 9, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. An MP3 file of the briefing will be available on our secure Web site, to which you all have access, this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

And now I would like introduce the acting director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Dr. Alan Guttmacher.

[Alan Guttmacher, M.D.
Acting Director
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
National Institutes of Health]

Dr. Guttmacher: Thank you for joining us at the National Institutes of Health for this audio briefing on the Report on America’s Children. As you’ve just heard, I’m Alan Guttmacher, the Acting Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH.

America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2010 is a compilation of key federal statistics regarding the nation’s children and youth. The report is issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, which is a working group of 22 Federal agencies that collect, analyze, and report data on issues related to children and families. The report presents 40 indicators of child well-being across a range of important domains in children’s lives:

  • family and social environment
  • economic circumstances
  • heath care
  • physical environment and safety
  • behavior
  • education
  • health

All the statistics in the report have been published previously. The intent of the report is to compile the most recent, reliable Federal statistics on children and youth into a single volume that is easy to understand and relevant to a broad audience. It provides a convenient reference for elected officials, policy makers, educators, and others interested in the well being of young people. The yearly release of the report also serves as a status update on how children are faring.

The indicators in the America’s Children report are chosen because they are representative of large segments of the population, rather than a particular group. The indicators are also measured regularly so that they can highlight both year-to-year changes and long-term trends.

Each year, the Forum alternates publishing a detailed report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, with a summary version that highlights selected indicators. This year’s report is a Brief version, which does not include the full set of figures or any of the data tables. The full set of figures and tables will be available to the public on July 9, at the Forum’s Web site,

Advance media access to the data tables is available through the Forum's pre-embargo Web site listed on the news release you received.

Among the positive developments noted in this year’s report is the drop in preterm births. Preterm birth increases an infant’s risk of early death or long-term disability.

After increasing for many years, the rate of preterm births dropped slightly for the second year in a row, from 12.8 percent in 2006 to 12.7 percent in 2007, to 12.3 percent in 2008. The drop in preterm births for this period was mostly in late preterm births, those that occur at 34–36 weeks of gestation (down from 9.0% to 8.8%).

From the data we have, it’s not possible to say exactly why the rate of preterm births dropped. However, efforts to understand the decline are ongoing. We are hopeful that, if we can find the reasons for the drop, we may be able to find ways to reduce the preterm birth rate further.

Joining us today to talk about other health indicators in the America’s Children Report is Dr. Edward Sondik, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Sondik will also be presenting information on the Report’s education indicators, for Dr. Valena Plisko at the National Center for Education Statistics who was unable to join us today.

Several other Forum members are joining us by phone today and are available to answer questions as well. With us are:

Tom Nardone: Assistant Commissioner for Current Employment Analysis, US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Howard Hogan: Associate Director for Demographic Programs, US Census Bureau

Laurian Unnevehr: Director, Food Economic Division, Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture

And now Dr. Sondik will make some comments.


[Edward Sondik, Ph.D.
National Center for Health Statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

Dr. Sondik: Thank you very much. Dr. Guttmacher mentioned the decline in preterm birth. Let’s just add one point to that—that the decline was seen in each of the three largest race and ethnicity groups. And, even a slight decline in preterm birth is positive.

About three percent of births are to adolescent mothers. This year we can report that the teen birth rate decreased after increasing the previous two years. In 2008, the teen birth rate was 21.7 [percent] for every 1,000 young women ages 15-17. That’s down significantly from 22.2 in 2007.

Still, there were nearly 136,000 births to 15-27-year-olds in 2008.

Child-bearing in adolescence is often associated with long-term difficulties for both the mother and the baby. Children born to a single mother are, overall, at a higher risk for adverse consequences such as being born at a low birth weight and living in poverty. In 2008, 41 percent of all births were to unmarried women, up from 40 percent in 2007 and more than double the percentage, thirty years ago in 1980.

Although the number and the percentage of all births to unmarried women have increased, the birth rate among unmarried women ages 15-44 actually decreased, from 53 births for every 1,000 unmarried women in 2007 to 52 births for every 1,000 in 2008. The reason for the decrease is that the total number of unmarried women in that group increased, so that the rate decreased.

Now, turning to health conditions, asthma and dental cavities are among the most prevalent, chronic diseases of children.

In 2008, nine percent of children under age 18—that’s nearly one in ten—had asthma. That figure has shown no change from 2007.

However, there was a change in the percentage of children ages 5-11 with untreated dental cavities. That percentage declined almost a full quarter from 27 percent, in data collected from 1999-2004, to 20 percent in the period 2005-2008.

For older children, from 12-17, the percentage of children with untreated dental cavities declined more than a third from 19 to 12 percent over the same two time periods, approximately the year 2000 to approximately the year 2008.

Looking at the data by income status for children in poverty, the percentage with untreated cavities was twice that of children who lived in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty level. However, the percentage with untreated cavities declined across the board, for all income levels. So there is a rather steep gradient when it comes to income.

Obesity is a serious concern that can have immediate consequences during childhood, including psycho-social effects, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. During 2007-2008, 19 percent of children ages 6-17 were obese. This percentage was not statistically different from 2005-2006.

This is in stark contrast to what the trends have been.

If we look back from 1976-1980, the rate today is actual triple what it was then. Childhood obesity often tracks to adulthood. And, obesity in adulthood can present serious problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Another major health concern is tobacco, including the risk of smoking-related diseases and premature death. The percentage of teens who regularly smoke cigarettes is at its lowest level since data collection began in 1980. In 2009, less than three percent of eight-graders reported smoking cigarettes daily. This percentage is a decline from the peak in the mid-1990s, when more than 10 percent of eighth-graders reported smoking cigarettes daily.

The figures for 10 thand 12 th graders also showed significant declines. In 2009, six percent of 10 th graders smoked—that’s only about one-third of the rate in the mid 1990s. And 11 percent of 12 th graders reported smoking cigarettes every day. That’s down from some 25 percent in 1997.

Children don’t actually have to be smoking cigarettes themselves for smoke to have an impact on their health. For younger children, exposure to second-hand smoke increases the probability of lower-respiratory tract infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS). We can measure exposure by measuring cotinine in the blood. Cotinine is a breakdown product of nicotine, and indicates recent exposure to tobacco smoke. In the period 2007-2008, 53 percent of children ages 4-11 had detectable blood-cotinine levels which is down from 88 percent in the period essentially 20 years earlier from 1988-1994. That’s a 40 percent reduction.

So, I’ve focused so far on health measurements. What I’d like to do now is switch hats and fill in for Dr. Valena Plisko, the Associate Commissioner for the Early Childhood, International, and Cross-Cutting Studies Division from another one of the federal statistical agencies, the Department of Education’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Dr. Plisko was unable to join us today.

This year’s report presents education data on children’s early literacy experience; their mathematics and reading performance; and their progress through high school and into college. The indicators include high-school completion rates and immediate-entry rates into college of recent high school graduates. Indicators also show the flip side: youth neither enrolled in school nor working.

Let me begin with mathematics and reading achievements. Beginning with student’s performance, the latest data from the National Assessment of Education Progress show that in 2009 the average math score of fourth-graders was unchanged from 2007, but higher than the average in 1990. The average score of eighth-graders was higher than the average of all previous assessments.

The 2009 reading score of fourth-graders was unchanged from that in 2007, but the average for eighth-graders improved.

Now, with respect to high-school completion, the percentage of young adults age 18-24 with a high-school diploma, or an equivalent credential, is a measure of the extent to which young adults have completed a basic prerequisite for many entry-level jobs and for higher education.

In 2008, 90 percent of young adults had completed such a credential. This percentage is higher than it was in 1980, when it was 84 percent. As I mentioned, we can also see the flip side. When we look at the percentage of 16-19 year-olds who are not enrolled in school or not working, as the portion of young people who are at risk of limiting their future employment and earning prospects, we saw that 19 percent of youth ages 16-19 in 2009 were neither enrolled in school nor working.


Did I say something different? 19? I apologize. I meant nine percent—too many nineteens on the page. Nine percent of youth ages 16-19 were neither enrolled in school nor working. Black and Hispanic youth were more likely to be in this situation than white youth.

Finally—when we look at immediate college enrollment following high school—in 2008, 69 percent of recent high-school completers had enrolled in college the October immediately after completing high school. The rate has increase from 49 percent in 1980, but has fluctuated from year to year.

To recap, the indicators of educational well-being present a mixed picture overall, with consistent improvements noted in some areas but continuing challenges in others. In terms of year-to-year change from the last report, we see the math and reading performance of eighth-graders improving, while performance among fourth-graders is unchanged from 2007.

High-school completion rates of young adults are improving, but [there has been] a rise in youth neither enrolled in school nor working. We also continue to see persistent, long-term challenges in educating our children and youth, including a generally lower educational performance and attainment by Blacks and Hispanics. Many of these indicators are interrelated and associated with child well-being highlighted in the other sections of this report.

Thank you.

Mr. Bock: Our speakers have concluded their remarks. At this time we will open this up for questions.


Operator: Our first question will come from Bill Hendricks with WebMD.

Mr. Hendriks: I am sorry but I missed… I heard what was said but I missed who said it. Maybe I got in late but could you please spell the first and last name, and the title, of the person who has been talking for the last five minutes or so.

Dr. Sondik: Hi, sure, I am Edward Sondik, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health and Human Services.

Mr. Hendriks: Thank you. And sorry if this sounds dumb—I guess I did get in late— did anybody else speak before you?

Dr. Guttmacher: Yes, speaking before him was Alan Guttmacher, and I am the Acting Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Mr. Hendriks: And was there anybody else—just those two?

Dr. Guttmacher: Just the two of us and the moderator.

Mr. Hendriks: [Chuckles briefly] I guess I don’t have any other questions. I just wanted to figure out who was doing the talking!

Dr. Sondik: Easy questions are all right–I think we did well with them!

Mr. Hendriks: Is the transcript going to be online so that I don’t say that Mr. Sondik said what Mr. Guttmacher said.

Mr. Bock: Yes, we are going to have an MP3 file and a transcript. They will be up later today or tomorrow.

Mr. Hendriks: That will be very good and very safe. Is somebody else asking a question?

Operator: I was going to go the next person if you don’t have another question.

Mr. Hendriks: I don’t.

Operator: Again, if you have a question press *1 on your key pad now.


Operator: The next question we’ll have is from Maggie Fox, with Reuter’s.

Ms. Fox: I’m Maggie Fox with Reuter’s. I know, Dr. Guttmacher, that you say that we can’t say why the rate of preterm birth has dropped but you must have some kind of idea?

Dr. Guttmacher: Thanks, Maggie, for the question. It’s a very important question and I think there are lots of ideas but these statistics don’t cite etiology, and the etiology of premature birth is quite complex. It reflects a combination of biological and social phenomena, and there have been enough changes over this period of time that it is hard to know for sure which of the factors have been responsible for this dip over the last couple of years.

Ms. Fox: But, can you give us an idea what some of the factors will be that have changed?

Dr. Guttmacher: Again, I think they are very complex and go beyond the scope of this report, which really indicates the data trends but does not—is not— the kind of report that looks into causation.

Ms. Fox: I understand that but I have to address it so I may as well address is properly so I can either look it up or someone who is informed, like you, can give me an idea of what some of the factors are…

Dr. Guttmacher: Some of the factors of premature birth or some of the factors that we think may have changed?

Ms. Fox: Some of the factors that you think may have changed.

Dr. Guttmacher: Again, I don’t think that we have over this time interval the kind of statistics which would tell us for sure what has changed. And rather than speculate and be wrong, I would simply say that we’ve noticed the recent trend—which is a couple of years duration—and we don’t have clear indication of the factors that are responsible for it. Sorry not to be able to be more enlightening to you but, especially over this time period which is relatively recent, we don’t have clear data to tell us what is responsible.

Ms. Fox: I’m sorry to be so persistent, but, in fact, you’re the one who brought it up so now we have to address it! You said there are some factors that have changed. We have to address that. [GUTTMACHER ATTEMPTS TO SPEAK]. I can’t report that with just numbers. We have to look at what the reasons might be.

Dr. Guttmacher: Again, I think that would be speculation uninformed by data which we tend not to do, and I’m just not going to go there. I think we know that the data that show this trend but there are so many factors that can be involved in prematurity that I really don’t think we have a clear understanding what has changed over the last couple of years.

Ms. Fox: Thank you.

Dr. Guttmacher: If you’d like, we can try to pull together for you some kind of fact sheet on prematurity if that would help you with it. It’s not going to say exactly what’s changed over the past couple of years but it can go over some of the factors that have been shown over the years to affect prematurity?

Ms. Fox: That would be useful.

Dr. Guttmacher: That would be helpful? Well, we’ll get that to you!

Ms. Fox: Thank you.

Operator: We have a question from Serena Gordon with HealthDay.

Ms. Gordon: Hi, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why there were slight improvements for the eight-graders but no improvements for the fourth-graders?

Dr. Sondik: This is Ed Sondik, I was reporting for Val Plisko, and I don’t know the answer to that. We can see what we can learn from the Department of Education, but we don’t have the specifics [here].

Ms. Gordon: And then another follow-up. Well, not really a follow-up, a different question entirely. It looks to me as if the data you’re reporting on clearly show that the state of our economy is affecting our children—am I reading that right?

Dr. Sondik: There’s no question. First of all, we see the percentage of children who are in poverty has changed. We can also see changes in the percentage of kids who are insured, so there is no question that there is a relationship to that. I also shared that with dental cavities, we can see a very clear relationship with respect to income and the percentage of untreated dental cavities. So I think there is a relationship.

Tom Nardone: This is Tom Nardone from BLS [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Another thing I would point out that very clearly shows that [the economic effects] is that we have an indicator on secure parental employment—that’s the percentage of children with at least one parent working full-time year-round. In 2008, which was the most recent data available, that was 75 percent down from 77 percent. And I think we all know that the labor market worsened in 2009 from 2008. So that’s another example of how the economy is affecting children.

Ms. Gordon: And Tom, what was your title again?

Tom Nardone: I’m the Assistant Commissioner for Current Employment Analysis [U.S. BLS].

Ms. Gordon: That’s it for me, thanks!

Dr. Sondik: With respect to the question on education, I believe there is information that could help on the National Center for Education Statistics Web site—that’s

Ms. Gordon: Thank you.

Mr. Bock: Thank you. There are no further questions, and we will conclude our briefing for today.


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