A new report shows the U.S. ranks lower than 38 other countries on measurements of children’s health, survival, education, and nutrition. The report, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, February 18, ranked 180 countries based on a child flourishing index.
The findings were compiled by over 40 child and adolescent health experts in a commission convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Ecological degradation, climate change, and advertising harmful products to youth were just a few of the factors, the report says, that have created an uncertain future for children around the world.
“It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty,” said Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.
To combat poverty, over 30.4 million children received free or low-cost meals in their school cafeterias in 2016, according to the USDA, and approximately 45% of Catholic schools in the U.S. participate in Federal Nutrition Programs. Schools also offer a wide variety of youth sports programs to keep children healthy and engaged. The American sporting goods industry brought in $45.19 billion in 2019 alone.
But there’s more to be concerned about than nutrition and physical activity. Every child worldwide, Clark says, is now facing existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.
In the report, countries were ranked separately according to their estimated levels of excess carbon emissions by the year 2030. The U.S. ranked No. 173 for sustainability in this category, coming in as one of the 10 worst carbon emitters in the world alongside Australia and Saudi Arabia.
“This report shows that the world’s decision-makers are, too often, failing today’s children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization. “This must be a wakeup call for countries to invest in child health and development, ensure their voices are heard, protect their rights, and build a future that is fit for children.”
To improve outcomes among the world’s children, the report calls for countries to incorporate children’s voices into policy decisions, tighten regulations around commercial marketing of harmful products like junk food, and stop excessive carbon emissions.
The report ranked Norway, South Korea, Netherlands, France, Ireland, Denmark, Japan, Belgium, Iceland, and the United Kingdom as the top 10 rankings on the child flourishing index. The U.S. was ranked No. 39.