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Are kids safer - or just more sedentary?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  April 18, 2012 02:25 PM

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A few days ago, we heard the news that the rate of accidental death in kids 0-19 went down by 29 percent between 2000 and 2009.  This is a big drop -- 3,000 fewer kids died from accidents in 2009 than in 2000. That's 3,000 fewer funerals, 3,000 fewer devastated families, 3,000 more kids who have a chance to grow up.

There were some bits of bad news mixed in to the report: the rate actually went up for newborns and infants, mostly due to suffocation (we need to get more information out about safe sleep), and nearly twice as many teens 15-19 died from drug overdoses (mostly prescription drugs). But overall, it looks like we're doing pretty well by our kids.

But are we? Is there maybe more to the story?

Fewer kids are dying in car accidents, which is great because car accidents are the biggest killer of kids, more than cancer or any germ out there. I am sure that all the education we are doing about car restraints, and the laws that are enforcing their use, has a lot to do with that. Fewer kids are dying in fires -- I am sure that improved firefighting and rescue, along with teaching about smoke detectors, has helped.

But the decreases in drownings, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents and falls ... that got me wondering. Are those less because we are doing better education and rescue -- or are they less because fewer kids are swimming, riding bikes, and playing outside?

Here are a couple of other interesting statistics. Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of kids ages 2-19 who are obese (not just overweight, obese) increased 22 percent. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 2004 and 2009 the average amount of time kids ages 8 to 18 spent using entertainment media (essentially all sedentary time) went up 20 percent, from 6 hours and 21 minutes to a whopping 7 hours and 38 minutes. 

So obesity and being sedentary went up almost as much as accidental deaths went down. Fewer kids may be dying now ... but that doesn't mean that they will live long or healthy lives.

Maybe these statistics have nothing to do with each other. And don't get me wrong: I am really happy that fewer kids are dying in accidents. But whenever we get data like this, it's important to think about it and learn everything we can from it.

Are our kids really better off now than they were in 2000? I'm not sure.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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