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Rise in Chronic Childhood Health Problems

Study Shows Conditions Such as Obesity and Asthma Are Increasing in Kids

Second Opinion

The study findings, while not surprising, are of concern, says Geetha Raghuveer, MD, associate professor of cardiology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and pediatric cardiologist at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., who reviewed the study findings for WebMD.

''I was taken away by one comment in the paper that at least one in two children in the recent [group] had some sort of chronic condition," she says. "And that's a lot."

"Many of these problems are lifestyle-related," she says, citing the high percent of obesity found in the children.

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.

"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."

The study findings are of concern, agrees Neal Halfon, MD, MPH, University of California, Los Angeles professor of pediatrics, health sciences, and policy studies, who also directs the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. "It shows that over that time period that the rates are going up quite significantly," says Halfon, who co-wrote an editorial that accompanies the study. He reports receiving support from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

''I was surprised at the magnitude of the increase, but I wasn't surprised at the overall trend," he says, ''because that trend has been emerging for the past 30 or 40 years."

Part of the increase, he tells WebMD, can be attributed to the generally broader definition of childhood health problems. But not all, he says, blaming ''the social environment and social ecology of childhood" for some of the increase in chronic health conditions such as obesity. For instance, he says, higher-calorie foods and an increase in ''screen time" with excess television and computer use contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Halfon suspects there may be common pathways for some of the conditions, as some children have multiple conditions. "The good news here is, it's really shining a light on a problem that we have that in a sense we have been ignoring," he says.

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