Major Health Issues Concerning Children

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

Childhood should be a time of growing and learning, but unfortunately, there are some very serious health issues that affect children. In this lesson, we will learn about the health issues affecting the children of the world.


Childhood should be filled with love, learning, and good memories. It's a time of innocence and growth. When you think about childhood, you probably don't think about some very serious health issues that children of the world face.

In 1978, the Declaration of Alma-Ata was developed and focused on worldwide health and the goal of improving health. At that time, 15 million children under the age of five were dying every year. In 2015, statistics showed that 5.9 million children under the age of five died - that's 16,000 children every day. Unfortunately, more than half of these deaths could have been prevented or treated.

Learning more about what causes so many childhood deaths is necessary to try to prevent them.

Leading Causes of Death

The highest risk of death is within the first month of life. Death can be caused by infections, premature birth, or a baby that isn't breathing at birth. The risk of death can be decreased through having prenatal medical care, skilled care for the birth, and medical care for the newborn baby.

Between the ages of one month through five years of age, the top causes of death include pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles. Malnutrition contributes to 45% of the deaths of these children.

We will focus on the top two causes of death in children next.


Pneumonia is the number one, and primary, infectious cause of death in children, accounting for 15% of all deaths of children under the age of five. Pneumonia is a respiratory infection in the lungs. The lungs are filled with small air sacs and when a person has pneumonia, these sacs get filled with fluid. As you can imagine, that causes difficulty breathing, and inhibits oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange in the lungs.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. Children that suffer from malnutrition or have weakened immune systems are at higher risk for pneumonia. Other risk factors include exposure to cigarette smoke, living in crowded homes, and the burning of wood or fuel in the home for cooking and heating. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics and can be prevented through immunization, adequate nutrition, and decreasing environmental factors.


Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five, and is the leading cause of malnutrition in these children. Diarrhea is defined as an infection in the intestines with three or more loose stools a day. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Diarrhea causes the loss of water and electrolytes from the body, which leads to dehydration.

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