More Children are Living with Chronic Health Problems

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A new US study is finding that 1 in 4 children are living with chronic health problems, some of which are a direct result of their home environment. The main conditions appear to stem from obesity. This can lead to onset of many chronic conditions including diabetes and arthritis, to high blood pressure.

“The study speaks to the fact that children need continuous access to healthcare," said Dr. Jeanne Van Cleave, a pediatrician at Mass General Hospital for Children in Boston and the lead investigator of the study. "But with good treatment, a lot of these conditions will go away."

Researchers studies and analyzed data taken from a government performed survey of 3 groups of children ranging in ages from 2 and 8. Over the years, the researchers noted that chronic health problems such as obesity and asthma went up considerably in children.

“The findings are suggesting that the children of today suffer from different illnesses than those seen in previous generations,” said Dr. Neal Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.

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"We have a whole different set of conditions we're looking at today and a broader set of definitions for illnesses," said Halfon, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "We're seeing bigger increases in obesity, attention deficit disorder and other mental and behavioral conditions. Part of that has to do with the kinds of environments in which children are growing up."

"Asthma, attention deficit disorder, obesity -- there aren't robotic surgeries to fix these things," he said. "It's a situation where we need to have a really strong primary care system where kids have what we call a medical home and they have regular contact with a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner."

''We knew before we started this study that childhood chronic diseases were generally on the rise," says Cleave. "But this study really gives a better picture." The study findings point to the need for parents to pay more attention to nutrition for their children and to be sure they get enough physical activity, she says.

You read these numbers, and you get really sad," says American Academy of Pediatrics spokeswoman Sandra Hassink, who wasn't involved in the new study. "It's a different picture of what most people think childhood is like."

Lead researcher Cleave said, "Parents can make small changes in their child's diet and see a big improvement in overall health," she says. "It can be as simple as taking liquid calories out of your child's diet. That may be all that's necessary to prevent excess weight gain and all the problems."

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