Subj: Rachel #580: Trends Among U.S. Children
Date: 98-01-09 07:11:14 EST
From: email@example.com (Peter Montague)
Reply-to: firstname.lastname@example.org (Peter Montague)
.. RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #580 .
.. ---January 8, 1998--- .
.. HEADLINES: .
.. TRENDS AMONG U.S. CHILDREN .
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TRENDS AMONG U.S. CHILDREN
As we work for a "better future," what are we working for? Of
course the answer is today's children.
Last October the South Carolina state Supreme Court upheld the
criminal prosecution of pregnant women who use drugs. The
court was deciding the case of Cornelia Whitner who in 1992
pleaded guilty to child neglect when her baby was born with
traces of cocaine in its blood. Ms. Whitner, 33, was sentenced to
8 years in prison. After serving 16 months, she sought to have
her conviction overturned on grounds that the fetus is not a
person under child abuse laws.
In its October 27, 1997 decision, the South Carolina court
affirmed that the fetus IS a person and said, "The abuse or
neglect of a child at any time during childhood can exact a
profound toll on the child herself [sic] as well as on society as
"However," the court went on, "the consequences of abuse or
neglect which takes [sic] place after birth often pale in
comparison to those resulting from abuse suffered by the viable
fetus before birth."
Prosecutors in at least 30 states have used various criminal
statutes to bring charges of child abuse against pregnant women
using drugs or alcohol. But only South Carolina, so far, has
upheld such charges. Some states have successfully held that the
fetus is a person under wrongful death laws (for example,
charging a man with murder after he stabbed his pregnant wife and
killed the fetus in her womb) but until now no state has said
that a fetus is a person under child abuse laws.
Lawyers for Ms. Whitner said they would appeal the South Carolina
decision to the Supreme Court of the United States. "If [a]
fetus is a person, everything a pregnant woman does is
potentially child abuse, abortion is murder, and women lose the
right to make medical decisions on their own behalf during
pregnancy," said Lynn Paltrow, who represented Ms. Whitner.
Ms. Paltrow said that the effect of the ruling would be to deter
pregnant women from seeking prenatal care, for fear that their
drug use might be discovered. Actually, under the South Carolina
ruling, failing to get prenatal care could conceivably constitute
child abuse, as could drinking, smoking, or knowingly ingesting
other toxic substances during pregnancy.
If the South Carolina decision is allowed to stand, it could have
far-reaching consequences for the pesticide industry, the waste
incineration industries (medical, solid and hazardous wastes),
metal smelters, coal-fired power plants, petrochemical processing
plants, plastics manufacturers and other major emitters of
dioxins, mercury, cadmium, or any number of other chemicals that
can cross the placenta and harm fetuses.
For example, the NEW SCIENTIST reported November 22, 1997 (pg. 4)
that "Millions of children across the world may have been
mentally damaged after being exposed to low levels of mercury
before they were born." NEW SCIENTIST cited a study of children
whose mothers ate substantial amounts of fish. At age 7, the
children showed deficits in learning, attention, memory, spatial
perception, and motor skills. "The children with increased
exposure performed as though they were a few months behind for
their age," says Philippe Grandjean of Odense University in
Denmark. NEW SCIENTIST quotes an EPA [U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency] report saying that an estimated 85,000 U.S.
women of childbearing age have excessive exposures to mercury.
The mercury in fish comes 60% from burning coal and oil, and 36%
from waste incineration, according to NEW SCIENTIST. The
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) says it would cost up to
$10 billion to fit power plant smoke stacks with filters to
capture mercury, and they say it's just not worth it.
* * *
As the 20th century slinks to a close, the variety of hazards
afflicting American children seems to be multiplying.
In late 1997, two new studies found that one in four (25%)
adolescent girls in the U.S. has been sexually or physically
abused or has been forced by a date to have sex against her
A poll in late 1995, conducted by Kaiser Permanente, a health
care company, and by Children Now, a children's advocacy group in
Oakland, California, found that 40% of girls between the ages of
14 and 17 said they knew someone who had been hit or beaten by a
* * *
In October, 1995, the National Center for Health Statistics
reported that the proportion of obese children in the U.S.
doubled during the last 3 decades. The study found that 4.7
million American children (10.9%) between the ages of 6 and 17
were overweight --up from 5% in the period 1963-1965. Most of
the increase in obesity occurred during the 1980s, the study
said. Reason: worsening diet and diminishing exercise.
* * *
In early 1996, the International Narcotics Control Board (an
agency of the United Nations) reported that 10 to 12% of American
boys between the ages of 6 and 14 are now taking the prescription
drug methylphenidate (brand name: Ritalin) --a stimulant drug
prescribed to control vaguely-defined attention-deficit
disorders. Manufacture of Ritalin rose from 3 tons in 1990 to
8.5 tons in 1994, 90% of it prescribed in the U.S.
* * *
The U.S. Public Health Service said in 1997 that children's
illiteracy is a "major public health problem." An estimated
40% of American children are poor readers and half of those have
severe problems. If a child hasn't learned to read well by the
third grade (usually age 9), most likely they will remain poor
readers for the rest of their lives. "With that failure often
comes a lifetime of disappointment and privation--and burdens for
society," according to reading researchers. Among children
identified as learning disabled in the third grade, 74% remain
disabled in 12th grade, according G. Reid Lyon, chief of the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development within
the National Institutes of Health.
Children of poor, urban families have the most trouble. A survey
of the City of Baltimore found that an astonishing 89% of school
children rated less that satisfactory on a standardized test of
reading and analytic skills.
* * *
In late 1994, the Carnegie Corporation released a 3-year study of
U.S. children. The Carnegie report painted a bleak picture
indeed. As the NEW YORK TIMES said at the time, "It is a picture
of a United States that ranks near the bottom of the
industrialized nations in providing such services as universal
health care, subsidized child care and extensive leaves from work
for families with children under age 3, despite recent scientific
evidence that these early years are critical in the development
of the human brain."
More than half of women with children under a year old are
working. "Many of their children spend most of each week in such
poor child care that it threatens to harm their development," the
NEW YORK TIMES said, based on the Carnegie report. "The quality
of these young lives is deteriorating even as mounting scientific
evidence indicates that children's environment, from birth to age
3, helps determine their brain structure and ability to learn,"
the TIMES said.
* * *
Of America's 12 million children under the age of 3, one in four
(25%) lives in poverty. Ten million children live in families
with no health insurance coverage. According to the federal
Department of Health and Human Services the "welfare reform" law
passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 will
move an additional 1.1 million children into poverty.
* * *
During 1996, three long-term studies showed that children born to
poor mothers and mothers with low IQs can "massively improve
their intellectual abilities" if they are given high-quality
education in the first five years of life. And the benefits
endure. Children who were given special attention early in life
consistently performed better on math and reading tests at ages
8, 12, and 15.
One study, called the Carolina Abecedarian project, begun in
1972, gave children one-on-one attention in an all-day,
year-round nursery school starting at age 6 months until age 5,
with spectacular results. Unfortunately, the cost per child
of the Abecedarian Project is $6,000 per year, so only the
well-to-do could afford such education, unless it were supported
by public funds.
* * *
In 1995, a study of 18 industrialized nations found that poor
children in the U.S. were poorer than poor children in most other
Western industrialized countries. Only in Israel and Ireland are
poor children poorer than poor children in the U.S. The study
cited 3 reasons for the U.S.'s low standing (16th out of 18):
(1) disparities between the rich and the poor are greater in this
country than in other industrialized countries;
(2) welfare programs in this country are less generous than in
other countries [and this was before the 1996 "welfare reform"
law was enacted]; and
(3) in the U.S., households with children tend to have lower
incomes than the national average --a pattern not found in most
* * *
During the economic recession of the early 1990s, the states
raised sales and excise taxes, which fall hardest on people with
low incomes. They also raised income taxes, which fall most
heavily on the rich. After 1994, with corporate profits and the
stock markets booming, states cut taxes --they cut taxes for the
wealthy, without reducing the tax burdens of the poor.