Detroit Free Press, December 4, 2007: State lags in improving quality of life for kids

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The quality of life for Michigan’s children continues to worsen, despite improvements in toddler immunizations, teenage pregnancy rates and the number of teens who binge drink and smoke, according to a study to be released today by two Michigan child advocacy groups.

The Kids Count in Michigan study also shows a growing disparity between African-American children and their white counterparts in a number of wide-ranging health issues, like child mortality rates, child abuse and neglect, and the number of children living in poverty.

“What is troubling is that we’re seeing substantial cuts” in public services “that disproportionately affect low-income children, even as we see an increase in child poverty,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, director of the Michigan League for Human Services, the other group involved in the study.

“Many more children are living in pretty desperate circumstances. Overall, we’ve made some limited progress toward improving the health and well-being of our children, but we’re not seeing the kinds of improvements that are going to move us forward at the rate that we need.”

Michigan children have achieved only three of the 18 Healthy People 2010 targets to improve the well-being of Americans — in toddler immunizations, teen pregnancy rates and fewer kids getting into physical fights in high school. The targets were developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health and other national agencies.

But they still lag when it comes to some other targets, such as weight, exercise, low birth weight and preterm births.

“This isn’t pie-in-the-sky stuff; these are reasonable goals,” Zehnder-Merrell said. “We’re looking at halfway through the decade, and the results don’t suggest that we can make these substantial changes in the last five years to see a huge improvement.”

Other improvements did occur, however. Michigan students who used tobacco or binge drank dropped by about one quarter from 2000 to 2005. In addition, the number of children who tested positive for lead poisoning fell by nearly half, to 2,300 from 4,300, even with increased testing among low-income, high-risk children.

“Overall we’re really excited by the improvements, because we’re experiencing some difficult times in Michigan,” said Lynn Burdell, director of programs for YouthBuild Detroit. “We could use some good news.”

Still, Burdell said the only way to see improvements — and those that transcend racial lines — is to continue to direct programs and resources toward underrepresented minorities.

“We know where there are significant concentrations of African Americans who are experiencing these deficits,” Burdell said. “We need to make sure we’re addressing health, specifically, as we work with our families. We often focus on the economic, and that’s important, but we also need to focus on health.”

Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY at 313-222-6614 or

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