Hawaii children healthy

The state has the nation's
lowest child death rate

By Lisa Asato

Hawaii ranked 15th among the 50 states in a national report that assessed child well-being, even as it bucked a national trend of improving infant mortality rates.

The 2002 Kids Count Data Book also found that Hawaii lags in areas of families in which no parent has a full-time, year-round job and teens who neither work nor go to school.

The state, however, leads the nation with the lowest child and teen death rates.

Referring to those two indicators, Hawaii Kids Count project director Marcia Hartsock said: "That's great news that we're keeping our kids safe. On the other side of the balance, however, we're the only state that has seen an increase in the infant mortality rate in the last decade."

The slight increase in infant mortality rate here, or the number of deaths in the first year of life per 1,000 births, may be because Hawaii is more meticulous in recording every newborn that draws a breath as a live birth, said Hartsock, who works at the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaii.

Hawaii's infant mortality rate worsened to 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1999 from 6.7 in 1990. The national infant mortality rate improved, dropping to 7.1 deaths per 1,000 live births from 9.2 in the same period.

Last year, Hawaii ranked 16th in overall child well-being. This year, Minnesota topped the list and Mississippi ranked last.

The report released May 23 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that most American children were better off in 1999 than they were in 1990. Nationwide, seven of the 10 indicators of child well-being improved during that time, including teen birth rate and the rate of teen deaths by accident, homicide and suicide, which improved 24 percent.

Hartsock said Hawaii's improvements in child and teen death rates can be attributed to stricter laws and policies in seat-belt use and safety restraints. "Since so many child and teen deaths are by motor vehicle accidents, that, I think, has really helped," she said.

Hartsock also found encouraging Hawaii's above-average enrollment of 3- to 5-year-olds in kindergarten or education-based nurseries.

In 1999, 71 percent of Hawaii's youngsters were enrolled, compared with 67 percent nationwide.

"I think that shows a real interest in education and getting our kids off to a good start," she said.

She said Hawaii's children are faring well in general terms, but there is still room for improvement.


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