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Health Team

US ranks lower than 38 other countries when it comes to children's wellbeing, new report says

Posted February 18, 2020 7:04 p.m. EST

— The United States ranks lower than 38 other countries on measurements of children's survival, health, education and nutrition -- and every country in the world has levels of excess carbon emissions that will prevent younger generations from a healthy and sustainable future, according to a new report.

The report, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, ranked 180 countries based on a "child flourishing index" and the United States came in at No. 39.

Countries also were ranked by levels of excess carbon emissions -- specifically researchers took a close look at estimated levels for 2030. Based on that data, the United States ranked No. 173 for sustainability, according to the report.

The year 2030 was selected as the threshold because in 2015 governments around the world adopted "Sustainable Development Goals" created by the United Nations to make improvements for people and the planet by 2030.

When contrasting the child flourishing rankings with the carbon emissions rankings, the countries among the top for children "flourishing" were shown to have some of the most concerning levels of excess carbon emissions predicted for the future, according to the report, which was conducted by a commission of the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund and the Lancet.

"No country is in the right place with adequately making children flourish today and in the future," said Dr. Stefan Peterson, chief of health at UNICEF and an independent author of the report.

Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands ranked in the top three, respectively, on current child "flourishing," but those countries were 156th, 166th and 160th, respectively, on the global sustainability index that measured carbon emissions, according to the report.

Some countries had lower, yet still high, excess carbon emissions levels, but those countries did not rank well on the "child flourishing index" in the report. For instance, Burundi, Chad and Somalia ranked first, second and third on the sustainability rankings but 156th, 179th and 178th, respectively, on the "flourishing" rankings.

"I was hoping and thinking that at least some countries somewhere must be doing the right thing for children now and the right thing for children in the future -- but I saw no country was in that ideal place and that quite surprised me," Peterson said.

The "child flourishing index" was developed specifically for the new report, Peterson said.

The index was based on an aggregation of country-by-country data on various factors to measure child flourishing, including child survival rates, years of school, teen birth rates, maternal mortality, prevalence of violence, growth and nutrition, among other factors.

"We looked at what extent children are able to fulfill their potential," Peterson said. "It's about knowledge, growth, going to school and learning and it's about being protected from violence. We tried to look holistically."

Most of the data used came from previous research, including some UNICEF resources.

Overall, the report found that the top 10 rankings on the child flourishing index were the countries of:

Norway, ranked first overallSouth KoreaNetherlandsFranceIrelandDenmarkJapanBelgiumIcelandUnited Kingdom

The United States ranked as No. 39. The bottom 10 rankings on the child flourishing index, according to the report were:

Central African Republic, ranked last overall at No. 180ChadSomaliaNigerMaliGuineaNigeriaSouth SudanSierra LeoneAfghanistan

When it came to measurements of sustainability, the report found that the top 10 rankings were the countries of:

Burundi, ranked first overallChadSomaliaDemocratic Republic of the CongoCentral African RepublicMalawiRwandaMaliNigerMadagascar

The bottom 10 rankings on sustainability were:

Qatar, ranked last overallTrinidad and TobagoKuwaitUnited Arab EmiratesBahrainSaudi ArabiaAustraliaUnited StatesKazakhstanLuxembourg

To improve outcomes among children, the report calls for countries to stop excessive carbon emissions; tighten regulations around commercial marketing of junk food, alcohol and other harmful products; introduce new policies to protect children's health, nutrition and rights; and incorporate children's voices into policy decisions, among other recommendations.

"This report shows that the world's decision makers are, too often, failing today's children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a written statement about the release of the report.

"This must be a wakeup call for countries to invest in child health and development, ensure their voices are heard, protect their rights, and build a future that is fit for children."

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