Study finds Alaska's children faring better than 8 years ago

Death rate for Alaska youngsters has dropped although number of kids living in poverty has climbed, report says

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE - More Alaska babies are surviving their first year of life and fewer of the state's teens are dying in accidents and suicides. But more babies are coming into the world underweight and more children are living in poverty.

Those are among the conclusions of a report on the health of Alaska's children, made public today.

The Kids Count report looked at 10 health categories, ranging from low birth-weight babies to teen deaths from suicide. It compared statistics on Alaska children with numbers from eight years before and information from other states.

Alaska ranked 26th nationwide and was better than the national average in most categories. New Hampshire's children fared best, while Mississippi's were least well off.

Alaska improved in seven of 10 categories between 1990 and 1998, according to the Kids Count report.

"I always like to see us steadily improving, and that's what we're seeing," said Karen Perdue, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Alaska ranked seventh among states in the low birth-weight baby category - the only category that also showed a downward trend nationally. Low birth-weight babies may have a harder time surviving their first few years and may have greater health problems later in life.

The report found 6 percent of babies born in Alaska in 1998 weighed less than 5.5 pounds at birth. That's up from 4.8 percent in 1990, but still much better than the national average of 9 percent of babies.

On the other hand, more Alaska babies survived their first year of life. Between 1990 and 1998, the rate of infants dying before their first birthday declined by 44 percent in Alaska - twice the decrease seen nationally. In 1990, there were 10.5 deaths per 1,000 births in Alaska. That dropped to 5.9 by 1998.

The death rate for Alaska children ages 1 to 14 improved dramatically, dropping 27 percent between 1990 and 1998. Teens dying by accident, homicide and suicide fell 24 percent.

Perdue attributed the decrease in part to programs to prevent drowning, improve playground safety and put smoke detectors in homes. She said deaths related to the use of snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles remained a problem in Alaska.

While the child death rate and teen violent death rate are declining in Alaska, they remained higher than the national averages in the 1990s, said Linda Leask, editor for the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, which compiled the Kids Count Alaska 2000 Data Book.

In 1997, Alaska had the highest child death rate in the United States - 42 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1 to 14, according to Kids Count Alaska. The national average was 25 deaths per 100,000 children.

The report also found that 7 percent more children were living in poverty in 1997 than in 1989. Twenty-seven percent of children lived in single parent homes in 1998, the same as the national average but a 4 percent increase from 1990.

On the plus side, the Kids Count report found that Alaska teens giving birth fell 19 percent. Kids Count Alaska found the rate among girls 15 to 17 fell nearly 30 percent between 1990 and 1997, and the downward trend was evident among girls of all races.

Teens dropping out of high school fell 13 percent. Teens living in homes where parents did not have full-time work was down 22 percent.

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