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After improving steadily for half a century, the health of American children as measured by key indicators began to deteriorate during the past decade, according to a report released last week.

Compiled by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions Inc., the report cites 13 "health indicators" that it says suggest rising children's health problems. It documents, for instance, declining rates of immunizations among pre-schoolers and the increasing incidence of mumps, measles, pertussis, and other diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.

Some of the report's other measures of the worsening health of young people include: a doubling of the suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds over the last two decades, a doubling in the number of cases of pediatric aids over the past year, a 55 percent increase in the number of reported incidents of child abuse and neglect from 1981 to 1985, and increased obesity among school-age children.

Copies of "Profile of Child Health in the United States," are available for $20 each from nachri, 401 Wythe Street, Alexandria, Va. 22314.

Preschool-age children are being exposed to potentially toxic pesticides at levels that far exceed federal standards, a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concludes.

The study argues that children are unduly exposed to cancer risks because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health standards for pesticides in foods are based upon adults' eating patterns. The standards do not reflect young children's heavy consumption of apple juice and other fruits and vegetables, the environmental group maintains.

As many as 6,200 current preschoolers may get cancer because of their exposure to pesticides on produce, the study predicts. The group has filed a lawsuit against the epa, claiming that the agency has failed to counter known risks of pesticides in children's foods.

While foods that contain pesticides are "generally safe," the epa responded in a statement, "theoretical arguments suggest the young may be more susceptible" to pesticide-residue toxicity.

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