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Canada 17th out of 29 wealthy countries in child well-being index: Unicef

Children watch as Santa rides by on his float during the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto on Sunday November 18, 2012.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Canada ranks 17th out of 29 so-called wealthy countries when it comes to the well-being of children, according to a new study from Unicef, the United Nations children's agency.

Unicef graded the 29 countries in five categories and Canada's best ranking was 11th in the area of housing and environment.

The UN agency placed Canada 14th in educational well-being, 15th in material well-being, 16th in behaviour and risks and a low 27th in health and safety.

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Canada scored third-best on smoking, with Unicef saying only four per cent of children aged 11, 13 and 15 reported smoking at least once a week.

The same can't be said for cannabis, with Canada sitting 29th and last with 28 per cent of children saying they have used cannabis within the past year.

When it comes to obesity, Canada is third from the bottom, with 20.24 per cent of children aged 11, 13 and 15 deemed overweight based on the body mass index.

Canada ranked 21st in bullying, with 35 per cent of children aged 11, 13 and 15 report being bullied at school at least once in the past couple of months. Unicef also placed Canada 22nd in infant mortality.

David Morley, Unicef Canada's president and CEO, says the report shows there's a lot of work to be done.

"The fact that our children rank in the bottom half when compared to other industrialized nations simply isn't good enough," Morley said.

"It is clear Canada can do better. Protecting and promoting the well-being of our children must become a national priority."

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The Netherlands remains the overall leader in the study and is the only country ranked among the top five in all dimensions of child well-being.

Four Nordic countries — Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden — round out the top five. The bottom five in the Unicef index are Greece, followed by the United States, Lithuania, Latvia and last-place Romania.

Meanwhile, Canada's overall ranking drops seven places to 24th when children's views of their own life satisfaction are measured. Only five Eastern European countries rank lower than Canada in this category.

"Listening to children's voices, even at the youngest ages, and knowing more about how they see and evaluate their own lives is critical to improving children's well-being," Morley said.

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