State officials say children’s health improving — (The Washington Examiner)

To view original article click here

The Washington Examiner

Oct 19, 2007 2:00 AM

by Len Lazarick, The Examiner

BALTIMORE – Maryland children are getting better immunized, suffering fewer suicides, deaths and injuries, and using drugs, alcohol and cigarettes less in the last five to 10 years, Cabinet secretaries told lawmakers this week.

“By and large, we’re seeing progress,” said Sen. Rob Garagiola, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families. The measures are “all tracking and going down,” and immunizations are going up.

“We’re above the national performance standard in immunization,” Health Secretary John Colmers told the committee Tuesday. In Maryland, 84 percent of children under 3 are fully immunized, 1 percent higher than the national average. The national goal is for 90 percent by 2010.

The school immunization compliance rate is 99 percent, because “the school system has made massive efforts” to increase the rate, state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said.

But Del. Joanne Benson was still concerned about the 2,300 not immunized in Prince George’s schools. “As a school system, we’re not doing what we need to do,” said Benson, a former school administrator in Prince George’s County. She plans to meet with Colmers and Grasmick to see what more can be done.

Grasmick said, “There are a number of chronically absent children,” and there are parents who “have a fear of immunization” because of concerns about it causing autism. These parents “have very strong feelings,” she added, and “they will not sign permission slips” to get their children inoculated.

Completed youth suicides are also going down and are among the lowest rate in the country, Colmers said, although attempted suicide rates of about three for every 10,000 youth are about the same. The health secretary said a decrease in prescribing antidepressant drugs for children, which have been associated with suicide, may be contributing to the decline.

Rates of attempted suicide among Hispanic youth are going up, but the number is still small. “The disparities that we’re seeing tend to be narrow,” Colmers said.

Unintentional injuries for youth are also going down, largely through increased use of seat belts and car seats, Colmers said.

llazarick@baltimoreexaminer.com