From 1992 to 1999, researchers at Child Trends, a Washington-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization focused exclusively on children, prepared and disseminated two reports highlighting behavioral and environmental factors that shape the health of the family.
Previous efforts to collect information on the status and well being of Americans have focused on individuals, not families.
In the first report—entitled Running in Place: How American Families Are Faring in a Changing Economy and an Individualistic Society—the research team examined social trends that can influence the health of families. Among the key conclusions in the report:
- Stagnant wages, eroding job benefits, a large increase in unmarried childbearing, and a lack of support by nonresidential parents are making it increasingly difficult for families to provide for the basic physical needs of their members.
- The social environment at many of the nation's secondary schools is hazardous to young people's health.
- Children need parents who remain actively involved in their education and upbringing through high school, but many parents yield to the influence of their children's friends and other forces.
In the second report—entitled Setting an Example: The Health, Medical Care, and Health-Related Behavior of American Parents—the research team examined parents' attitudes and behavior related to their own health and its effects on their children. Among the key conclusions made in the report:
- Significant numbers of parents engage in risky behaviors that are harmful to their own health and the health of their children, including smoking, heavy drinking, and being overweight and sedentary.
- Close to half of mothers (44%) and more than a third of fathers (37%) report experiencing significant levels of stress during the previous year.
- Poor mothers are three to five times more likely to experience severe negative feelings than are non-poor mothers.
- Working mothers and fathers tend to be in better health than those who are not employed outside the home.