WASHINGTON (AP) – The family life, education and health of America’s children are generally improving, though child poverty has risen for the first time in a decade, according to the government’s broadest measure of children’s well-being.

The report Friday by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics Children finds that children are doing better for the most part. The teenage birth rate is down, young people are less likely to be involved in violent crimes and the death rate for this group has declined.

Still, children are more likely to be overweight than they were before and child poverty has inched up after several years of decline, according to the report, which draws together findings from many federal agencies.

The study paints a mostly upbeat picture. The teenage birth rate – steadily declining since 1991 – hit a record low in 2002.

Teenagers who give birth are less likely to finish high school or to graduate from college than other girls their age, said Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Also, infants born to teenage mothers are more likely to be of low birth weight, which increases their chances of blindness, deafness, mental retardation, mental illness and cerebral palsy.

In school, more children are taking advanced courses and studying a second language. At home, more parents are reading to their children.

“We know that education is key,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

The report pointed to progress in the area of crime. Young people were less likely to be victimized in a serious violent crime – murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault – or to commit one. In 2002, there were 11 serious violent crimes per 1,000 people age 12 to 17, compared with 15 per 1,000 youths in 2001, the report said.

Child mortality declined, too. In 2000, there were 18 deaths for every 100,000 children age 5 to 14; a year later, there were 17 deaths for every 100,000 children in this age group.

The infant mortality rate slightly increased. Seven of every 1,000 infants died before their first birthday in 2002, compared with a record low of 6.8 per 1,000 in 2001. Most of the increase in deaths occurred among infants younger than 28 days old.

The number of overweight children increased to 16 percent between 1999 and 2000, compared with from 11 percent in the early 1990s and 6 percent in the late 1970s.

That development “jeopardizes our children’s future, making them vulnerable to chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension previously associated more with adults than with children,” said Edward J. Sondik, director of the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The report said Mexican-American boys were at the highest risk, with 27 percent overweight followed by black, non-Hispanic girls at 23 percent.

The child obesity issue is a major cause for concern, Alexander said in a telephone conference call with reporters. “This is a trend that’s been at work since 1980 … and as a trend, it shows no sign of reversing,” Alexander said.

Child poverty also grew, reaching 11.6 million in 2002, compared with 11.2 million a year earlier.

Looking just at ‘related children’ – children related to the head of the household by birth, marriage or adoption – this rate rose from 15.8 percent in 2001 to 16.3 percent in 2002, the report said. Although this was the first significant annual increase in the poverty rate for related children since 1991, this increase followed a period of decline from a recent peak of 22 percent in 1993.

Children living with single females continued to experience a higher poverty rate in 2002 than their counterparts in married-couple families – 40 percent compared with 9 percent.

In 2002, 73 million children under 18 lived in the United States and made up 25 percent of the population.

AP-ES-07-15-04 1537EDT

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