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Most Australian children are doing well in terms of their health and wellbeing, but there is room for improvement for some, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, A picture of Australia's children 2012, shows that death rates for infants and children halved since 1986, the prevalence of asthma among children has dropped, and rates of risky drinking and smoking among children aged 12-14 are down.  Smoking in households with children has also dropped.

Almost three-quarters of children aged 0-2 have stories read or told to them regularly and most children achieve above the national minimum standard for reading and numeracy. The majority of households with children in Australia perceive their neighbourhood as safe. Most households also reported that they could get assistance from outside the household in times of crisis.

'The report indeed shows that most Australian children are faring well, but despite this good news, there are several areas where improvements could be made,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

For example, while exclusive breastfeeding was initiated for 90% of infants at birth, only 40% of infants were exclusively breastfed to around 4 months (exclusive breastfeeding is recommended to 6 months). Around 45% of children aged 6 have dental decay, as do 39% of children aged 12.

'The report also shows that almost one-quarter of children are developmentally vulnerable at school entry,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

About 7% of Australian children had a disability in 2009 and, of these, over half had profound or severe core activity limitations. The most common disability types among children were intellectual, affecting 161,600 children (3.9%), and sensory/speech (119,100 children or 2.9%).

Injury and cancer are the two leading causes of death in children. In 2008-2010, injuries contributed to 662 deaths of children-a rate of 5 per 100,000 children. Infants (aged less than one year) had the highest rate of injury death (11 per 100,000 infants).

Over the period 2004-2008, an average of 583 new cases of cancer were diagnosed annually among children, and in 2008-2010, there were 274 cancer deaths among children-a rate of 2.2 per 100,000 children. This accounted for around 5% of all child deaths.

'Additional challenges exist among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children living in areas of low socioeconomic status,' Dr Al-Yaman said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience higher death rates than the national average. They also had higher smoking rates than the general child population and were less likely to have achieved reading and numeracy minimum standards.

Children in the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) areas were less likely to be read to on a regular basis than children living in the highest SES areas, and their parents were more likely to report poorer physical and mental health.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.
 

Canberra, 31 October 2012

Further information: Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1146, mob. 0407 068 033

Full report: A picture of Australia's children 2012