Source: Guardian
Date: 14 February 2007

UNICEF: U.S., British Children Worst Off

By JOSH WARD Associated Press Writer BERLIN (AP) - The United States and Britain ranked at the bottom of a U.N. survey released Wednesday evaluating the well-being of children in wealthy countries.

The Netherlands topped the report issued by UNICEF, followed by other European countries with strong social welfare systems - Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Among the report's overall findings was that wealth alone did not guarantee a child's well-being, with some poorer countries scoring ahead of richer ones. The U.S. and Britain finished 20th and 21st overall, respectively, behind Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The British government immediately criticized the report, saying it used old data that did not measure recent improvements in things like teen pregnancies.

UNICEF ranked 21 industrialized countries in six categories: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people's own subjective sense of well-being.

The U.S. was last for health and safety, measured by rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, immunization, and deaths from accidents and injuries.

Britain was last in the family and peer relationships ranking, which measured such things as the rate of single-parent families and whether families ate the main meal of the day together more than once a week.

Britain also finished at the bottom in behaviors and risks, which considered factors such as the percentage of children who ate breakfast, consumed fruit regularly, were overweight, used drugs or alcohol or were sexually active.

The U.S. was second from the bottom in both of those categories.

The British government said information used in the study did not take note of recent improvements in education, health and general living standards. Some of the statistics went back as far as 2000 or 2001, it said.

``In many cases the data used is several years old and does not reflect more recent improvements such as the continuing fall in the teenage pregnancy rate or in the proportion of children living in workless households,'' said a spokeswoman for British Department for Education and Skills, on customary condition of anonymity.

She said reforms introduced to tackle ``teenage smoking, drinking, and risky sexual behavior ... are delivering improvements that are making real differences to children's lives.''

Opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Annette Brooke said the report reflected a ``shameful level of child poverty'' in Britain.

``It is shocking that we are doing so badly at bringing up our children,'' Brooke said. ``Every child should be entitled to live in a stable, loving family environment.''

Marta Santos Pais, the study's director, said future reports would devote even more energy to assessing how children perceive their own well-being and needs.

``Very often we base our assessment and governments shape their policies on the basis of what adults feel the policy measures are achieving,'' she said. ``It's always important to see how the beneficiaries of those policies are assessing the impact of the policies.''

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