Tags: More | U.S. | Kids | Unhealthy

More U.S. Kids Unhealthy

Wednesday, 27 June 2007 12:00 AM

The number of U.S. children with chronic health problems such as obesity has soared in the past four decades, foreshadowing increases in adult disability and public health-care spending, researchers said on Tuesday.

More time in front of the television and use of other electronic media, decreased physical activity, increased time spent indoors, increased consumption of fast foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, and changes in parenting are all likely to blame, the researchers said.

Writing in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association devoted to childhood chronic disease, researchers tracked rising rates of obesity, asthma and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, among U.S. children.

In the early 1970s, about 5 percent of children ages 5 to 18 were obese, compared to about 18 percent now, the researchers said. Asthma rates are estimated at 9 percent among these children, doubling since the 1980s, they said.

About 6 percent of school-age children currently report an ADHD diagnosis, also a dramatic increase in recent decades, the researchers said.

"The expanding epidemics of child and adolescent chronic health conditions will likely lead to major increases in disability among young and then older adults in the next several decades, with major increases in public expenditures for health care and income support," the researchers wrote.

They based their estimates on government data and previously published research in scientific journals.

"One of the most important messages is that we really need to focus on prevention," said Steven Gortmaker of the Harvard School of Public Health, who worked on the report.

"Genetic bases have been described for obesity, asthma and ADHD. Nonetheless, gene pool changes cannot explain the recent dramatic growth of these conditions," the researchers wrote, pointing instead to a host of behavioral and environmental changes.

Gortmaker said while prevention sounds simple -- eating a more healthful diet, getting more exercise and cutting down on TV -- making it happen is not.

In many children, chronic health conditions continue into adulthood and can be expected to raise health care costs while driving down quality of life, the researchers said.

Obesity is recognized as a growing public health problem worldwide. Obese people are at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and some cancers.

ADHD persists into adulthood roughly half the time, putting people at higher risk of other mental health problems, the researchers said. Asthma persists to adulthood in at least a quarter of childhood cases, they said.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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The number of U.S. children with chronic health problems such as obesity has soared in the past four decades, foreshadowing increases in adult disability and public health-care spending, researchers said on Tuesday. More time in front of the television and use of other...
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Wednesday, 27 June 2007 12:00 AM
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