The well-being of American children is improving in many areas, according to a recent report.

Infant and childhood death rates are down. There are fewer young people smoking and fewer children exposed to second-hand smoke, according to the government report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2003.

The report also showed that fewer adolescent girls are having babies and more youth are taking honors courses.

But not all the news is good. Among other things, kids are far more likely to be overweight than in previous years.

The seventh annual report released by the federal government looks at areas of child well-being including economic security, health, behavioral and social environment and education.

Among problem areas, children were more likely to be overweight than in previous years, according to the report. Also, the number of children with a parent working full-time dropped slightly. There was also a slight increase in the percentage of infants with low birth weight.

Other trends remained steady.

The number of children with health insurance remained at last year’s all time high. And after many years of decline, the number of children living in poverty has leveled off. The percentage of kids living in married, two-parent homes has remained the same.

“Contrary to what many people may think, the nation’s children are faring better in many respects than they have in previous years,” Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a news release. “The report provides an accurate snap shot of our children, showing areas where strong gains have been made, and where we need to remain vigilant.”

Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah and New Jersey ranked highest for childhood well-being, according to a state-by-state analysis as reported by the Associated Press. Alabama, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and Mississippi finished last when it came to children’s well-being.

Of particular concern in the report was the growing number of children who are overweight.

The report showed that the proportion of children ages 6 to 18 that were overweight increased from 6 percent in 1976-1980 to 11 percent in 1988-1994 and to 15 percent in 1999-2000.

Black, non-Hispanic girls and Mexican American boys were at the highest risk for being overweight.

The growing number of overweight adults is producing more and more overweight children, Edward J. Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a release. Children are learning by example, he said, making it incumbent on adult Americans to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Although the reasons for the increase in overweight children was not totally clear, the report cited eating out, diets low in fruit and vegetables and a lack of exercise as likely factors.

Jodi Mathews is news writer for

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