New Report Reveals Chicagoans’ Views about the Top Health Problems Impacting Our Youth

December 03, 2018
  • Drug abuse viewed as the top health problem for Chicago youth
  • Seven of the top 10 health problems for children and adolescents connected to mental health
  • Comprehensive survey of Chicago adults in all 77 community areas


Chicago adults identified drug abuse, obesity, and child abuse and neglect as the top three big health problems for children and adolescents in the city, according to results from a new survey developed by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). Strikingly, seven of the top 10 health problems for youth are related to mental health directly (stress, depression, suicide) or through health conditions connected to mental health (drug abuse, obesity, smoking and tobacco use, alcohol abuse).

“In this report we hear directly from Chicago residents about what they consider to be the biggest health challenges facing children and adolescents in the city,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Senior Vice President and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s. Dr. Davis teamed up with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research to develop the Healthy Chicago Survey–Junior 2017-18 and launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to the study of child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs will be issued that report on survey result topics ranging from vaccination to bullying to social problems like gun violence that affect youth health. 

“Our findings will inform and focus efforts to confront the major challenges and improve the health of children and adolescents in our communities. We especially will seek to address the mental health issues that so prominently feature in the top 10 health problems identified by Chicago adults,” says Dr. Davis, Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The top 10 health problems for youth rated by Chicago adults (with proportions of adults rating each as a “big problem”) include:

  1. Drug Abuse – 64 percent
  2. Childhood Obesity – 62 percent
  3. Child Abuse and Neglect – 61 percent
  4. Stress Among Children and Teens – 60 percent
  5. Depression Among Children and Teens – 58 percent
  6. Smoking and Tobacco – 53 percent
  7. Alcohol Abuse by Youth – 51 percent
  8. Parents’ Health Problems Affecting Children’s Health – 49 percent
  9. Suicide Among Children and Teens – 49 percent
  10. Teen Pregnancy – 49 percent

“Chicago’s young people have made tremendous gains – from achieving record lows in smoking and teen births to record high graduation rates. But there is still room for improvement. These new survey results will help us both better understand concerns across the City and identify ways we can further improve the health of all young people,” says Julie Morita, MD, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Phone interviews were conducted between December 2017 through June 2018 with 3,310 adults, including parents and non-parents, in randomly selected households across Chicago, with participants in all 77 community areas. Adults with children in the household rated all of the health concerns in the survey as more problematic than adults without children.

The Chicago residents’ perception that drug abuse is a top health problem for the city’s youth accurately mirrors the facts. Drug abuse is more prevalent among Chicago high school students compared to their peers across the country. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly 25 percent of Chicago high school students currently use marijuana, compared to about 20 percent of all U.S. high school students. Also 32 percent of Chicago high school students have been offered or sold an illegal drug at school, compared to nearly 20 percent of all U.S. high school students.

“Parents are right to be worried about substance use, especially given the vulnerability of a young person’s developing brain,” says Maria Rahmandar, MD, adolescent medicine specialist at Lurie Children’s. “Talking to children and teens about the risks and parents’ rules around drug use can be the first steps in preventing drug use and addiction.”

Lurie Children’s will soon launch its new Substance Use and Prevention Program at the recently opened, teen-friendly outpatient facility at 1440 N. Dayton, near the intersection of North and Clybourn.

Child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S.News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.