American children are chronically ill

Researchers documented a historic shift in the nature of child health — acute illnesses such as infections and accidents have given way over the last 50 years to chronic illnesses.

More than half of all the children in America will suffer from chronic health conditions during their childhood years, according to a new study published in the February 17, 2010, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study analyzed approximately 5,000 children as they grew from the ages of 2 through 8 years old in three different cohorts, from 1988 to 1994, from 1994 to 2000, and from 2000 until 2006. It defines a chronic health problem as one lasting for more than 12 months that requires extended treatment or disrupts a child’s capacity to carry out behaviors and actions typical of their age. Obesity heads the list of common conditions. Researchers also found increases in asthma, diabetes, allergic conditions and cognitive disorders like ADHD.

Researchers documented a historic shift in the nature of child health — acute illnesses such as infections and accidents have given way over the last 50 years to chronic illnesses. During the last five decades, mortality rates, hospitalizations and school absence days were declining. Yet the prevalence of chronic conditions severe enough to cause some level of activity limitation more than doubled between the 1960s and the 1980s.

An editorial in JAMA states, “While some have claimed that diagnostic or conceptual creep is at play, it seems more likely that these new definitions are responding to the changing realities of childhood and to the changing epidemiology of childhood chronic disease.”

Study author Dr. Jeanne Van Cleave, a pediatrician with Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, said the morbidity rates in children will go up if no one musters the political will for real change. “I’m seeing more and more kids with high cholesterol and insulin resistance that already have blood vessel damage in them. They’re already like a 45-year-old in terms of blood vessel health. We need a basic change in how we live and how we eat. Prevention is key.”

 

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 2, Apr/May 2010.

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