purposes of assessing risky behaviors. This difficulty is not the sole problem of survey designers, but it may have to do with how the mental health, education, and medical fields conceptualize mental health or illness and risky behaviors. Many mental health disorders seem to merge with the day-to-day problems experienced by everyone. This results in the absence of clear, critical indicators for mental health and illness that have strong face validity and that are clearly linked to functional impairment and the need for treatment. This reflects a more general failure in behavioral health research.
Another assessment gap is the fact that, among the few studies that attempt to address the problems noted above, few are nationally representative (NHANES, NHIS, National Household Education Survey, and NHSDUH being notable exceptions). Instead, most are samples representative only of a particularly community or region, usually with time-limited funding sources as a part of an investigator-initiated research study. While some regional studies are longitudinal, nationally representative surveys tend to be ad hoc or one-time-only. There is no clear ongoing commitment or funding, or health-monitoring strategy with explicit ties to national policy. Furthermore, no data are currently available meeting these three criteria that can also be used to assess these constructs in policy-relevant localities, such as cities, counties, or states.
In addition to the general methodological inadequacies in assessment of key behavioral characteristics among children, such as failing to obtain behavioral data from multiple informants and failing to distinguish between behavioral risk factors and actual behavioral disorders, most available datasets have not linked the behavioral measures to other influences that may affect behavior, such as family and parenting variables, peer influences, educational functioning, other aspects of physical health, and neighborhood and school resources. A notable exception is the ECLS of the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Our discussion of measurement of influences in the physical environment focuses on chemical exposures and aspects of the built environment to illustrate measurement challenges related to measuring the physical environment. Similarly complex measurement challenges and in most cases a paucity of data exist related to noise and other exposures of concern; home, school, and work settings; and safe environments free of injury.
Environmental pollutants are measured in media, such as water, air, some foods, and soil, as reviewed in two recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000a, 2003). However, these measures do not always take into account children’s unique exposure pat-