Research Scientist

The State of Children's Health


Below is the current state of children’s health in 20 fast facts. The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® strives to turn these facts around through education, research and advocacy. Children are our greatest resource. Their environment shouldn’t harm them; they cannot protect themselves. We must!



Diverse_Group_KidsAs of 2016, 6.1 million children aged 2-17 years had been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in America. Less than half of these children received behavioral treatment for their ADHD in 2016, while 62% of these children were taking ADHD medication. ADHD is more common in boys, and also among children with fair or poor health status. (CDC



shutterstock_106241129An estimated 1 in every 13 children (roughly 2 in every classroom) have food allergies. 40% of affected children have experienced anaphylaxis or other severe allergic reactions. Between 1997 and 2011, food allergies in children increased by 50%. (Food Allergy Research and Education).

In 2017, 5.6 million (7.7%) of children under age 18 in the U.S. reported having hay fever in the past year, while 8 million children (10.9%) reported respiratory allergies, 4.8 million (6.5%) had food allergies, and 9.9 million (13.5%) reported skin allergies.  (CDC
Food and respiratory allergy prevalence increased with income level. Children with family income equal to or greater than 200% of the poverty level had the highest prevalence rates. The prevalence of skin allergies decreased with age. In contrast, the prevalence of respiratory allergies increased with age. The prevalence of food and skin allergies increased in children under age 18 years from 1997–2011 

- A 2007 CDC study estimates that 294,000 U.S. children under 18 (or 1 in 250 children) have been diagnosed with arthritis or another rheumatologic condition (CDC). In 2017, nearly 300,000 babies and children had a rheumatic condition or arthritis (Arthritis Foundation).


Asthma - One in every 10 children in the U.S. has asthma. Asthma is the most common long-term disease of children, and is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, resulting in 13.8 million reported missed school days in 2013 alone (CDC). It costs approximately $27B per year.    

autism_develpmental_learning_centerAs of 2014, about 1 in 59 U.S. children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, which demonstrates an increase from 1 in 150 children in the year 2000. Based on a 2018 study, almost half (44%) of children identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder demonstrate above average intellectual ability (CDC). 



Mental Health Disorders - Mental health disorders afflict one in every five children. These include mood disorders, learning disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders (Child Mind Institute). Suicide was the second leading cause of death among children aged 10-18 years in 2017 (CDC). Mental health disorders are among the most costly conditions to treat in children, costing approximately $247 billion annually (AAP). 

Bipolar disorder can run in families. Bipolar Disorder usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, but children can have bipolar disorder too. An estimated  2.9% of adolescents have bipolar disorder. Prevalence of child-onset bipolar is not well established due to debate about the appropriate boundaries of diagnosis among preadolescents. Children with Bipolar Disorder often have other psychiatric disorders such as ADHD and anxiety disorders. (NIH

Drug prescriptions for pediatric emotional, behavioral and mental health conditions have risen dramatically.  Nearly 83,000 prescriptions for the antidepressant fluoxetine were written in 2014 for children ages two and under, reflecting a 23 percent increase from the year before.  In this same age group, almost 20,000 prescriptions for antipsychotic medications were written in 2014, a 50 percent jump from 2013 (NY Times). 

shutterstock_76478602Childhood cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children and adolescents (ages 1-19 years) in the United States, although cancer among children is rare. An estimated 15,590 children and adolescents ages 1-19 years were expected to be diagnosed with cancer and 1,780 would die of the disease in 2018. (CDC)

Child Welfare In a 2013 UNICEF survey, the United States ranked 26 out of the top 29 developed countries assessed on the welfare of children. The criteria included a range of indicators, from infant mortality to whether children ate dinner with their parents or were bullied at school. (UNICEF)

Children in Poverty – As of 2017, 15 million children live in families below the federal poverty threshold in the United States, this comprises 21% of all children. However, this threshold underestimates the needs of families, including basic expenses. Taking into account that a family needs double this threshold income to cover such expenses, 43% of children live in low-income families. (National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University)

Chronic Diseases- One in four students in the U.S. has a chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy. Managing these chronic conditions must be a coordinated effort among parents, educators, health care providers, and other youth influencers. There are three well-established causes for most chronic diseases: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. (CDC)  

shutterstock_85020949About 208,000 youth (younger than 20 years old) are living with diagnosed diabetes.A study from CDC and NIH found that from 2002 to 2012, incidence (rate of new diagnosed cases) of type 1 diabetes in youth increased by about 1.8 percent each year. During the same period, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes increased at a more rapid rate of 4.8 percent. (NIH




Infant Mortality -The infant mortality rate in the United States in 2017 was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. There are 55 countries that have a lower infant mortality rate compared to the United States. (CIA)

Obesity– One in five children and adolescents (ages 2-19) in the U.S. is obese, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile. Education matters: childhood obesity decreases as the education level of the head of household increases. (CDC)
Childhood obesity is now the number one health concern among parents in the United States. (American Heart Association)


1 in 200 Kids and Teens have OCD.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, affects approximately 2.2 million adults; one-third developed symptoms as children.  OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent, unwelcome thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors, and can also be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, or depression. (National Institute of Mental Health, NIH)

Premature Birth
premature_AIn 2016, 1 out of every 10 infants born in the United States was premature. (CDC) The U.S. preterm birth rate is higher than that of most developed nations. Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns. (March of Dimes


Sickle Cell Disease - Approximately 1 in 365 black or African American babies is born with sickle cell disease, which also affects those of Hispanic, southern European, Middle Eastern or Asian Indian backgrounds. It is a condition in which red blood cells can become sickle-shaped and block blood flow.  (NIH)

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death for babies between one month and one year old. Most SIDS deaths occur when babies are one month to four months old. (NIH)In 2017, 1,400 infants passed away from SIDS in the U.S. (CDC)

Babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy have a 3 times greater chance of SIDS. Babies who sleep on their tummies on top of soft bedding have 21 times greater risk of SIDS. (CJ Foundation for SIDS)

Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child  
Baby_in_BlanketAs of 2017 SUDC occurs in children under 1 year old 67.3 times per 100,000 live births and 1.5 times per 100,000 in ages 1-4 years. (SUDC Foundation



Tourette Syndrome - About 1 in 360 children have Tourette’s, based on a 2012 CDC study. (CDC) Since Tourette syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system, it often occurs with other problems such as ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression. Onset typically occurs in early childhood. (NIH)

WHO Stats - The World Health Organization estimates that up to 24% of global disease is caused by environmental exposures, and that the environment significantly affects more than 80 percent of major diseases. That includes childhood cancer, diabetes and asthma. In addition, more than a third of diseases in children under the age of five are caused by environmental exposures.  (World Health Organization)

Link to: The State of Women's Health


Last updated 6-20-19

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