Some “investigative” journalists, such as Philip and Alice Shabecoff believe that trace exposures to chemicals are responsible for an epidemic of childhood diseases, deformities, and deaths. As these authors note in their new book, “Poisoned Profits”
“There is abundant evidence that the trillions of pounds of hazardous pollutants that have been poured into the environment are, in all likelihood, responsible for much of the sickness, suffering and, too often, death of America’s children.”
While the Shabecoffs appear to be interested only in investigating claims that support their thesis (hence the quotation marks around the word investigative), real statistics tell us a different story, as today’s New York Times reveals in an excellent article on what actually, and tragically, kills kids.
The leading culprit is accidental death from motor vehicle accidents, fires or drownings, which kill over 4,000 children aged between one and 14 each year in the U.S. Almost half of these deaths involve motor vehicles. Unintentional drownings account for roughly 30 percent of child fatalities, with marked variance in race: the rate of drowning among African American children is 3.2 times that of white children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Second on the list is cancer, which claims 1,377 children each year. Cancer mortality in children has been steadily decreasing in the U.S, although incidence rates have been increasing, a phenomenon which is partly explained by better case identification through diagnostic technologies such as MRI; however much remains unknown about the causes of childhood cancers, but incident rates vary depending on gender, age, race, and ethnicity.
As for crime, David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire tells the Times that “children are often the victims of crimes, but not necessarily of the sort that keep parents awake at night.” Getting hit by other children, notably by siblings, is the most common form of assault, while family members and those in positions of trust are much more likely to inflict harm than complete strangers (about 115 cases of strangers abducting children occur each year).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and the Times, the take home message is kids should sit in the back seats of cars and wear helmets when skateboarding or bicycling (a measure in Canada mandating bike helmets led to a 52 percent decrease in bicycle-related deaths).
Ironically, the biggest risk factors for childhood injury are those activities which in principle are good for kids: sports; and yet according to the CDC, high school sports account for up to two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations annually.