Number Of US Children Taking Medications For Chronic Illnesses Increases

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The number of U.S. children taking medications for chronic diseases increased significantly between 2002 and 2005, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, USA Today reports. For the study, researchers analyzed the prescription records of nearly four million insured children ages five to 19 who were covered by Express Scripts.

The study did not include the 40% of children who are uninsured or covered by government-sponsored health care plans, according to lead author Emily Cox, senior director of research with Express Scripts. The study focused on drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, asthma, depression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders.


The study found that the number of children taking medication for type 2 diabetes more than doubled from 2002 to 2005 to a rate of six out of 10,000 children. According to the researchers, this figure indicates that at least 23,000 privately insured U.S. children are taking diabetes medications, including children as young as five years old (Szabo, USA Today, 11/3). In addition, the study found a nearly 47% increase in the number of asthma prescriptions for children, as well as smaller increases in the number of children taking drugs for high blood pressure or high cholesterol -- both conditions that have been associated with obesity. The number of children taking ADHD medication increased by 40%, and antidepressant use was essentially flat, although the numbers decreased significantly among children younger than age 10, according to the study (Desmon, Baltimore Sun, 11/3).

Most of the increases in prescriptions for diabetes and ADHD were seen among girls (USA Today, 11/3). The disparity was most prevalent for diabetes medications: The number of girls ages 10 to 14 taking diabetes drugs increased by 166% from 2002 to 2005 and by 133% for those ages 15 to 19 (Baltimore Sun, 11/3). Diabetes medication use among boys increased by 39% during the same period (USA Today, 11/3).

Study author Donna Halloran, a pediatrician at St. Louis University, said physicians have been seeing the prescribing trend in their practices, but "the rate of rise is what's surprising." Cox said, "There are concerns that we're moving too quickly to drug therapy," adding, "We don't know that drug therapy is best for some of these conditions" (Baltimore Sun, 11/3).

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