Chronic Health Problems Soar in Kids
Asthma, Obesity, and ADHD Top the List
What's Causing It?
All three conditions -- asthma, obesity, and ADHD -- have been linked to
genetic influences, Perrin says, yet genetic factors can't totally explain the
rise in the problems.
He points also to social, family, and environmental changes, such as a rise
in working parents with less time to nurture their children, more stress on
parents, increased use of television and other media and computers, and
decreased opportunities for physical activity.
Another factor that may play a role, the researchers say, is the rise in
very low-birth-weight babies, who have been found to be at higher risk for
obesity, ADHD, and perhaps asthma.
Dietary changes -- increases in calories and portion size, as well as the
abundance of sugary beverages -- also affect the rise in obesity, he says.
As today's children and teens move into young adulthood, Perrin sees a huge
impact on their need for health care as well as social services if they become
disabled. "I think we are going to see a doubling or tripling of health
care costs," he says.
"These are people who are going to have much less of a good quality of
life and good future," he says. Young people who are obese have a higher
risk of getting diabetes and cardiovascular disease, he tells WebMD, and
children with severe asthma can become disabled even as teens.
ADHD, he adds, is probably in large part due to genetics but may have
environmental factors playing a role.
In a editorial in the same issue, Jody W. Zylke, MD, a contributing editor
to the journal, and Catherine D. DeAngelis, MD, MPH, the journal's
editor-in-chief, note that pediatric chronic diseases are "stealing"
Complicating the issue, they say, is that researchers don't agree on a clear
definition of a chronic health condition in childhood.
In another study in the same issue, researchers from the Netherlands
reviewed 64 articles that defined chronic health conditions of children. They
found a large range of definitions in use. As a result, the estimates of how
many children are affected ranged from 0.22% to 44%.
Despite the bleak picture, the co-authors say there are a few bright spots,
such as the success with childhood cancer survival (yet there has also been a
rise in treatment-related complications). And research on childhood conditions
is about to take off with the expected launching this year of the National
Children's Study. It will evaluate 100,000 children from before birth until age
21 to focus on the effects of environmental factors on health and
What Parents Can Do
Reducing childhood chronic diseases isn't just a task for researchers and
health policy experts. Parents can help, says Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, director
of health promotion and disease prevention at RAND Corp. in Santa Monica,
Calif., a nonprofit research organization, and chief of general pediatrics and
vice-chairman of the University of California at Los Angeles department of
"Create an environment in the household where kids can eat
healthier," he suggests. "If a refrigerator is filled with high-fat
snack foods, kids are more likely to eat them. A particular concern is
sugar-sweetened beverages. If parents could just get their kids to drink
water, that would be a good first step. Flavorings that don't add calories are
Perrin tells the parents of his patients to do three things: Pay attention
to your child's diet, increase physical activity, and cut down on television
and other media use. "Replace it with exercise," he says.
Perrin advises limiting viewing of all media -- television, computer, and
all other electronics -- to one hour a day on weekdays and two hours a day on
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