Need a few reasons to be optimistic about the current and future state of the world? Look no further than family health care. Since the first issue of Colorado Parent debuted 30 years ago in 1986, major progress has been made benefitting our kids” health, and we can expect even more good news in the future. “Science is advancing at an incredible pace,” says Dr. James Todd, head of epidemiology at Children’s Hospital Colorado and a practicing pediatrician for more than 40 years. Todd adds that he hopes to see better vaccines, more cancer research and most importantly, medical coverage for all children, in the near future.
Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest health advances in the last 30 years.
1. Breastfeeding education. Thanks to improved education of the benefits of breastfeeding, more babies are breastfed for longer durations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 80 percent of mothers breastfeed their newborns today (compared to 57 percent in 1986) and twice as many breastfeed for six months (21.6 percent in 1986 compared to more than 50 percent today).
2. Cancer survival. Children diagnosed with cancer today have dramatically improved chances of survival. “It’s incredible to think about the improvements in survival rates for childhood cancer, especially leukemia, during my career,” says Todd. According to the National Cancer Society, mortality rates for all childhood cancers have steadily decreased by about 2.1 percent every year since the mid-1970s.
3. Car seat safety. Increased and improved use of car seats has led to a 50 percent decrease in car accident deaths among children younger than 13, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
4. Mental health awareness. Doctors have become much better at identifying and treating mental health issues. Aside from recently developed pharmaceuticals, exciting new treatments such as creative arts therapy are growing rapidly. Increased awareness has reduced some of the stigma that many children in the past had to face.
5. Reproductive health. There’s never been a better time for women who are trying to conceive. Dr. Eric Surrey, medical director for the Colorado Center of Reproductive Medicine, identifies a number of major advancements in the field of reproductive health in the last 30 years. These include improvements in freezing, embryo screening and implantation. Even the genes themselves can be screened to prevent congenital diseases. “Now doctors can transfer lower numbers of better-quality embryos to achieve higher pregnancy rates while significantly reducing multiple pregnancy rates,” says Surrey.
6. Secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke has been reduced thanks to legislation limiting smoking in public places. According to the CDC, in the late 1980s, almost 90 percent of nonsmokers had levels of cotinine, a chemical found in tobacco, in their systems. Today, that number is about 25 percent.
7. SIDS reduction. The 1994 back-to-sleep campaign, which encouraged parents and caregivers to put babies on their backs during naps and at night, reduced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by more than 50 percent.
8. Vaccines. No kid likes getting shots at the doctor’s office, but a little discomfort has been proven to be well worth the effort. Today’s vaccines have virtually wiped out childhood diseases such as meningitis, measles, chicken pox, rotavirus, pneumococcus and Hepatitis A. The flu shot, too, has been effective against many strains of influenza. Todd says the state of Colorado has made great strides in improving health care access and insurance coverage for children in the last couple of decades. This has dramatically increased the number of kids receiving vaccinations. “We have virtually eliminated diseases that I spent the early part of my career treating,” he says. Todd noted, even with the recent anti-vaccine movement, the number of diseases prevented is “infinitely higher than any complications caused by vaccines.”
9. The Internet. While some physicians may argue that Googling symptoms leads to more anxiety and misconceptions than necessary, knowledge is power. Today’s parents are more connected and better informed than ever. Health care organizations now post information on social media sites. Breastfeeding groups are organized on Facebook. The CDC posts helpful vaccine information on Instagram and you may even be able to follow your local pediatrician
10. Gene Science. In the last several years, doctors have gone from having a simple grasp of a small fraction of our genes to having tens of thousands (and counting) of human genome sequences at their fingertips. The result of all of this information will be more individualized care.
11. HPV Vaccine. In 2008 Harald zur Hausen, a German virologist, won the Nobel prize for discovering the role of the human papillomavirus in cervical cancer. His discovery led to the development of the HPV vaccine. This vaccine has already reduced the number of cervical cancers, and as more and more women are vaccinated, it has the potential to eliminate 90 percent of cervical cancers.
Health care has certainly come a long way in 30 years. Here’s hoping when our children are parents in another 30 years, they”ll have a whole new set of reasons to be grateful for medical advancement.
Chera Prideaux is a freelance writer who lives in Castle Rock with her husband and two daughters.