In February of 2007, a U.N. survey named the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark as the world's leading countries when it comes to child health and well−being. As in previous studies, the U.S. finished at or near the bottom among developed nations.
So, what are we doing to change things? Not nearly enough, according to three UCLA professors who are calling for a complete overhaul of the U.S. child health care system, which they describe as a "patchwork of disconnected programs, policies and funding" that lacks "clear accountability or performance goals."
"...[o]ur adult physical, cognitive and socioeconomic health is built in the early years of life ... many health problems have their origins during childhood and simply compound over time."
In their report, which appears in the March 2007 issue of the journal Health Affairs, Dr. Neal Halfon of UCLA's School of Public Health and his co−authors argue that even as Congress, the nation's governors and the Bush administration debate the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which covers low−income children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, our leaders are ignoring the fundamental problems of the nation's child health system.
"An increasing body of science now tells us that the scaffolding for our adult physical, cognitive and socioeconomic health is built in the early years of life," said Halfon. "We know now that many health problems have their origins during childhood and simply compound over time."
For example, child obesity rates have doubled in the last 20 years, Halfon said, and more than 20% of all young people have been diagnosed with mental health or behavioral problems, creating the prospect that the current generation could be significantly less healthy than their parents.
"The most common diseases of the past were acute illnesses or infections, but today's children and youth face chronic conditions that will impact them for the rest of their lives − diseases like asthma and diabetes; and mental health problems like ADHD and depression," Halfon said. "These emerging health needs are simply not being addressed."
The authors call for reforms that include:
- making the child health system a national priority.
- creating a new national child health development agency that can advance a new child health agenda.
- ensuring that all children have health care coverage; that coverage is comprehensive and includes health promotion and disease prevention, and addresses the whole child, including physical, mental, behavioral and developmental needs.