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Survey Charts Rise in Health Problems Among Pupils

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WASHINGTON--Nearly two-thirds of elementary school teachers responding to a recent national survey believe that more of their students have health problems today than in the past, according to a report released here last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National PTA.

The 500 survey respondents estimated that, on average, 12 percent of their students last year had a problem that seriously affected their learning. Urban teachers said that fully 18 percent of their students had such problems.

In addition, 90 percent of the respondents said that at least one of their students last year had a serious emotional or physical health problem that impeded academic progress.

The problems most often cited were psychological and emotional problems (92 percent), unhealthy lifestyle habits (78 percent), and family violence and abuse (78 percent).

The area of classroom performance most affected by students' poor health is their ability to concentrate, two-thirds of the respondents said.

"We must ensure that all of our children are healthy enough to learn,'' Dr. Daniel Shea, the president of the academy, said in a statement. "This survey clearly shows that children's health status is adversely affecting their education.''

The percentage of teachers who reported increased numbers of children with health problems was highest in rural areas, at 71 percent, compared with 65 percent for suburban areas and 56 percent for urban areas. The report suggests that the historically worse health conditions found in urban areas may lead city teachers to report less change in the health status of their students.

Health Care Cost a Barrier

Most survey participants cited the high cost of care and lack of access to adequate health insurance as the leading barriers to parents' obtaining medical care for the children.

"I believe that you can judge the character of a nation by how it treats its weakest members,'' said Pat Henry, the president of the National PTA. "Using the criteria of health care and how it impacts education, the survey indicated that, as a nation, we do a poor job.''

The survey was sponsored jointly by the academy and the National PTA to raise public awareness of children's educational and health-care needs as voters prepare to go to the polls in November, said Dr. James E. Strain, the academy's executive director.

Children are not being well served by the government, Dr. Strain said, citing what he called inadequate funding for vaccination programs and the difficulties Congress has faced in enacting legislation that would require employers to grant parents leave to care for sick children.

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