Treatments For Adult Ailments Rapidly Rising In Children
Health problems long considered adult conditions and caused in large part by lifestyle factors are rapidly afflicting children and leading to a surge in pediatric use of prescription drugs to treat these ills.
New research released today by Medco Health Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: MHS) shows that the number of children taking medications to treat type 2 diabetes, sleep problems and gastrointestinal disorders such as heartburn has more than doubled in a seven-year span. Based on this data, there are now approximately 1.2 million children in the U.S. taking these traditionally adult medications.
The analysis, which reviewed prescription claims of about 600,000 insured children ages 19 and under, also reveals that heart disease-related conditions are creeping into childhood. While the prevalence rate is still quite small, the use of medications to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure in children is on the rise.
"It's a 21st century reality that pediatricians are treating more and more young people suffering from conditions like type 2 diabetes once associated almost exclusively with adults," states Dr. Renee Jenkins, FAAP, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise should always be recommended to patients and evaluated by physicians before they prescribe any medications."
According to the research, use of type 2 diabetes medications saw the greatest spike, rising more than 150 percent from 2001 to 2007; girls led the way with a three-fold increase. The prevalence of children on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) -- medications used to treat heartburn and gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) -- rose 137 percent in the same time frame. Prescription sleep aid use showed the slowest growth over the seven-year period, up 34 percent among all children; but was almost twice as high (62 percent) for children ages 10-19. One encouraging sign is that the prevalence of children on hypnotics actually declined from 2006 to 2007, suggesting that physicians and parents may be rethinking the use of these medications in children.
Adding Pediatric Pressures to an Overburdened Health Care System
This research also raises serious questions about how well-equipped our health care system is for dealing with these growing numbers of young people afflicted with adult conditions. According to a recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics, the number of practicing pediatric endocrinologists, specialists who treat diabetes patients, is not keeping pace with the growth in the prevalence of childhood diabetes. The study found that there is only one endocrinologist available for every 290 children with diabetes and every 17,000 obese children who may be at risk for developing diabetes. Studies have also shown shortages in other pediatric subspecialties which could severely impact the care necessary for children with cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.
"Our pediatric specialist care system is already overtaxed; we could be facing a real crisis if these adult conditions become increasingly prevalent in children and require specialized care," said Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer. "We're also looking at potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in added health care costs with children developing chronic conditions early in life that could extend into their adulthood."