Health Column

June 12, 1991 4 min read

Ten years after scientists were first able to identify aids, medical experts now predict that the disease will become one of the leading causes of death for minority preschool-age children, a new study concludes.

The study, which appears in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, a scientific journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that aids has become a common cause of death among black and Hispanic children between the ages of 1 and 4, especially in the Northeast.

The study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, looked at national mortality statistics for 1988, the year for which the most recent complete data are available. This data reveal that 249 children under the age of 15 died of the disease that year, or 0.4 percent of all deaths in this age group.

According to the study, the death rate of black children from aids and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes it was about six times higher than the death rate among white children. The death rate was highest in the Northeast, especially in New York and New Jersey, and in Florida.

In 1988, the researchers found, aids was the ninth leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4 and the sixth leading cause of death among black children in that age group. In New York, aids was the leading cause of death for Hispanic preschoolers, and the second leading cause of death for black preschoolers.

“With an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 hiv-infected children born in 1989,” the study said, “the impact of hiv on mortality in children will become more severe.”

Despite the greater prevalence of hiv-positive children, and the numerous educational campaigns about aids, a separate study has found that a majority of the parents questioned would not permit their child to stay in a classroom with an hiv-infected child.

The study, which appeared in the same issue of Pediatrics, found that half of the day-care providers surveyed said they would not care for a child infected with the virus because they feared he or she could infect others at the center.

The researchers from the University of Texas Medical School in Houston who conducted the study surveyed 219 parents in 4 day-care centers and 176 providers in 12 centers. Although virtually all respondents knew that sex and needle-sharing can spread aids, many did not know that the disease cannot be spread through many common contacts, such as through urine and stool, sharing diaper-changing areas and eating utensils, and kissing.

One-third of the parents, and 20 percent of the care-providers, said they felt that hiv-positive children should not be allowed to enroll in a day-care center. The vast majority of parents and day-care workers said they would want to know if a child with the virus was enrolled in their classroom.

Given these results, the researchers wrote, “much planning and education needs to occur before children infected with hiv will be accepted into the day-care community.”

The federal government should listen to its own advice and ensure that all government food programs follow nutritious-eating guidelines, a report by the Institute of Medicine concludes.

The institute, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, said last week that more should be done in both the public and private sectors to provide Americans with a nutritious diet.

The government, the report says, should be leading this effort by altering its food programs, including the federal school-lunch program, the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and food stamps, to reflect the latest nutritional thinking.

Schools also need to improve their nutrition-education programs, the report concludes. One way the federal government could do this, the report says, is by increasing funding for the Nutrition Education and Training Program, which encourages good eating habits among schoolchildren.

Copies of Improving America’s Diet and Health are available for $29.95 each prepaid, plus $3.00 for shipping and handling, from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

On another nutrition front, children’s Saturday-morning television shows have come under attack from nutrition advocates for their plethora of junk-food commercials.

According to a new survey by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 9 out of 10 food advertisements during children’s cartoons are for candy bars, sugary cereals, fatty fast foods, and other “nutritionally flawed foods.”

The Washington-based advocacy group recently monitored the advertisements on 19 hours of local Saturday-morning shows. Nearly two-thirds of the 340 commercials shown were for food, the group found, and only 8 of the food commercials highlighted “reasonably nutritious products,’' such as low-sugar cereals or milk.

In response to the study, U.S. Representative Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to study how the foods in the television ads compare with diets recommended by the government.--ef

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Health Column