As reiterated throughout this report, the committee contends that it is in the national interest to place a higher priority on children’s health. In the short term, this will result in children whose health and quality of life is improved and who are more ready and able to learn. Children have important value in their own right and are worthy of this type of societal commitment. It is also in the national interest to optimize children’s health for two reasons that have longer term implications.
First, the continuing viability of society depends on a citizenry and a workforce that are properly equipped to be productive and committed to serving the nation. Second, failure to improve children’s health will have substantial long-term consequences for the health of the adult population, especially in terms of the incidence, timing of onset, and severity of chronic conditions. Events in early childhood can contribute to the physical and mental health morbidity that is often evident and only measurable later on. Thus, society has a choice between addressing that morbidity early in children’s lives or dealing with its future consequences. In the committee’s view, investing now is the better alternative for all the reasons above and because it is the right thing to do.
Important improvements in children’s health will require new data to inform policy and practice. Filling data gaps requires knowledge about the gaps that exist, understanding which gaps are important and how they can be filled, and appreciating what new research and methodologies must be developed to accomplish this. This report has provided a framework for national, state, and local policy makers to identify and fill data gaps and thus secure information needed for consistent, focused, responsive, and effective policy.
The committee also assessed what is currently in place to measure children’s health at the national level, as well as approaches that facilitate use of data by states and localities. Over the past century, the United States has instituted important health monitoring and surveillance activities that increased the number of measures of personal and public health delivery systems and initiated important research strategies to better understand the influence of various factors on health outcomes. However, much of this new capacity has been created without adequate attention to the measurement and monitoring of children’s health and to the factors that influence it. Inadequate and incomplete measurement obscures the ability to identify important influences on and changes in children’s health, including influences that may adversely affect immediate and long-term health outcomes. The lack of information on children’s health and its influences can allow harmful exposures (e.g., environmental toxins, damaging social conditions) to go undetected, resulting in missed opportunities to improve prevention, health promotion, and treatment interventions.
Building on what has already been achieved, the committee puts forward an