IN 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt personally wrote 200 notes in longhand inviting representative American citizens to attend a conference at the White House. His serious and far-reaching purpose was to assess and plan for the well-being of the country's young people. With this first presidential meeting on children and youth, a White House precedent was set, and, once in every decade since, a similar conference has been held. These "periodic examinations," so to speak, of the nation's young, have been distinguished over the years for major outcomes in the welfare of children and youth.
Last year, as you know, marked the Golden Anniversary of White House Conferences on Children and Youth. In contrast to the small group which convened in 1909, some 7,000 citizens assembled in Washington about a year ago. Among them were numerous pediatricians from various parts of the country whose leadership was clearly evident at the conference sessions. Their contributions to the discussions were aided by the preparation for this meeting that had been encouraged by the Academy's Ad Hoc Committee on the White House Conference under the leadership of Stewart Clifford.
Unquestionably this 1960 Conference brought into focus the extraordinary progress that has been made in improving the health of children during the last 50 years in this country. Remarkably large reductions have been effected in the mortality at younger ages. The death rate for infants under 1 year of age decreased 78% between 1910 and 1956—from 132.2 to 29.6 per 1,000. Even more rapid has been the downward trend in mortality among children past infancy. At the preschool ages, 1 through 4 years, the death rate dropped from 14.0 to 1.1 per 1,000, or 92%. The relative decrease was almost as large at ages 5 through 9; even at ages 15 through 19 the mortality was reduced nearly 75%. According to the mortality prevailing at the time of the first White House Conference, newborn children had 50 years of life ahead of them; at present the figure is nearly 70 years.
However, progress made in advancing the health of American youngsters should not divert attention from the many problems in health and welfare that still exist. Fetal and neonatal wastage, accidents, diseases of the heart and respiratory system, orthopedic conditions, and visual and hearing impairments are some of the problems that concern pediatricians. Along with these is the ever-present, but less tangible, need to improve our understanding of the basic principles of children's physical, mental and emotional growth and development.
- Copyright © 1961 by the American Academy of Pediatrics