Childhood rates of chronic health problems, including obesity, asthma and learning disabilities, have doubled in just 12 years, a new study reports — to 1 in 4 children in 2006, up from 1 in 8 in 1994.
But the findings, which appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, held a welcome surprise, the researchers said: many chronic conditions resolve themselves during childhood.
While half of the children followed from 2000 through 2006 had a chronic condition at some point during the period, only one-quarter did at the study’s end.
“There is much to be hopeful about,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Jeanne Van Cleave, a pediatrician at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston. “We’re now wondering what’s going on with those kids, and why a chronic condition resolves in one child while another child may not experience the same thing.”
The study analyzed data from the government’s National Longitudinal Surveys that included three nationally representative groups of children ages 2 through 8. Besides obesity and asthma, the scientists looked at allergies, heart trouble, impaired vision and hearing, and behavior and learning problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Though the researchers did not study the reasons for the increases, they suggested several possible factors: improvements in screening and diagnosis that led to more reporting of the chronic conditions; the rise in childhood obesity, which can lead to other problems; and the increasing survival of premature babies and children with cancer and other diseases, who are more likely to have chronic health problems.
Dr. Court’s Comments:
To me, it is not a surprise that these chronic health conditions are on the rise. Steadily over the last twenty years children have become more sedentary and diets have become poorer.
This study did not hypothesize why these conditions might be on the rise, but the dangerous combination I mentioned above is as good as any.
The link between diet and obesity is an easy one. Children are eating more and more processed and refined foods which are loaded with bad carbohydrates and contain very little actual nutrition. The asthma/diet link is also an easy connection. Many children consume copious amounts of foods they are allergic to. Routinely, I place children on elimination diets to rid them of any possible allergies. The likely culprits are dairy and wheat, but others may exist.
The link between diet and learning disabilities is also there. Elimination of offending foods often results in better behavior and increased concentration at school. Also, there must be more activity for these children. Active children are much less likely to suffer from ADHD and other similar problems. When I treat children with ADHD I always recommend that they child get into some kind of organized activity. If they don’t, they end up with too much “screen time.” That is, they spend too much time in front of the TV or computer. This is very detrimental to their brain development.
If we want to change this disturbing trend we have to get our children better nutrition and get them active. Parents must understand that these conditions don’t develop because they are “unlucky” or have “bad” genes. These are controllable and need to be addressed with corrective measures and not covered up with drugs that only relieve symptoms.