Chronic health problems among children on the rise

We've talked a lot about the three-decade rise in childhood obesity. But it's not the only chronic health problem children struggle with.

In fact, the prevalence of child chronic health conditions, from asthma to behavioral problems, increased  from nearly 13 percent in 1994 to nearly 27 percent in 2006, according to a new study appearing in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association.

Harvard researchers examined three groups of children ages two to eight and followed them for six years.

Despite the overall increase, most children got better over the course of the study period. Only about 7 percent of children who reported a chronic health problem in the beginning of the study had one six years later, researchers found.

(This begs for a definition of the word "chronic." The study defined a chronic condition as one lasting at least 12 months). Among the illnesses they found: diabetes, heart problems, ADHD and ear infections.

While the increase in obesity has been well-documented, the rise in other conditions is less understood, the study states. 

One explanation is that children have better access to specialized care for chronic problems and are able to survive diseases today that would have killed them decades ago, the study explains.

The National Children's Study, a massive government effort to study children from their mother's pregnancies through their 21st birthday, could help explain the trends, an accompanying editorial states. For now though, the issue needs to be addressed, say Dr. Neal Halfon of UCLA and Paul W. Newacheck, of the University of California at San Francisco.

The data presented by Van Cleave et al suggest that the prevalence of other chronic health conditions is also increasing among US children and that obesity is not the only clinical time bomb ticking away in children. There is an urgent need to better understand why this is the case and what can be done about it.
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