An Ounce of PreventionThe rate of children diagnosed with chronic diseases has doubled in the past 20 years, according to a recent health study, yet many of these illnesses like asthma and obesity are avoidable.
The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, considered any physical, mental or emotional condition a chronic disease if it has affected a child’s quality of life for 12 months or more.
The diseases often keep a child from attending school, doing school work or taking part in usual kids’ activities regularly. They also may require frequent special attention from health professionals, medication or special equipment, and can be a source of both emotional and financial strain for parents.
Here are some of the illnesses creeping up on kids today and what you can do to keep yours healthy.
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Why the rise?The study suggests that the frequency of childhood illness jumped from 12% in 1996, to 26% in 2006. That’s more than doubt. Some have suggested that kids aren’t actually getting much sicker; rather doctors are just getting better at or more aggressive when it comes to diagnosing illnesses. That may be true in some cases but it’s likely that there are other factors at work. Environmental factors could play a role, and as the Emerging Health Threats Forum points out, “Other factors behind the rise could be that children are surviving premature birth more often, or that kids who have undergone chemotherapy are developing late health effects as a result of their treatment.”
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AsthmaThe stats: More than 9% of children currently have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 7 million kids. In 2006, asthma was responsible for 10.6 million visits to the doctor’s office, the CDC says.
Prevention: Exactly why kids develop asthma is unclear. Genes and exposure to cigarette smoke and other air pollution at an early age can play a part, and exposure to other allergens in the air or viruses in early childhood could impact a still-developing immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health, so avoiding these irritants could prevent the condition from developing or getting worse.
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AllergiesThe stats: A nationwide survey found that more than half of Americans are allergic to at least one thing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and more than 50% of homes contained at least six detectable allergens, according to recent research.
Prevention: Cases of food allergies are increasing steadily, and some scientists theorize that early exposure to certain foods can prevent kids from being allergic to them, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some doctors also believe that food allergies can be cured with exposure to small amounts of allergens, but until there’s definite proof, it might be safer to avoid them altogether.
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Chronic Ear InfectionsThe stats: More than three out of four kids have had at least one ear infection by the time they reach 3 years of age, and they can be painful.
It’s believed that the earlier a kid gets his or her first ear infection, the more susceptible he or she is to having recurring episodes. Prevention: Getting routine immunizations could prevent ear infections, according to WebMD. And studies have found that the use of pacifiers put kids at a higher risk of developing them because the increased saliva from sucking may help bacteria travel to the middle ear.
In severe cases, kids may be able to prevent further infections by switching to a yeast-free diet.
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ObesityThe stats: Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the CDC, and obese kids may be more at risk for heart diseases like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Plus, obese kids and young adults are more likely to develop bone and joint problems and sleep apnea in addition to psychological problems.
Prevention: Hopefully by now, Americans are realizing that a chubby baby doesn’t necessarily equal a healthy baby.
Some doctors encourage obesity screening in infants following research that found half of kids in the United States with weight problems became overweight before age two, according to one study.
After age two, parents should teach and exercise portion control, find ways to make favorite dishes more healthy, for instance by adding vegetables (you can puree them and put them into sauces if you must). Of course, physical activity should be encouraged as well.
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DiabetesThe stats: There is a genetic element to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Between 45% to 80% of kids with the disease have a parent with diabetes, according to kidshealth.org. But it can also be caused by obesity.
Prevention: Most people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight, the site notes. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes, but as more kids have become overweight, that description is no longer accurate.
Physical activity can help prevent type 2 diabetes. This may be especially important to African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans who are more prone to developing the disease.
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderThe stats: Between 3% and 7% of school-aged kids have ADHD, according to the CDC. But greater awareness of the condition may have contributed to a higher rate of diagnosis. While kids can learn how to live with the condition, studies have found that kids with ADHD have higher rates of injuries, hospitalizations and emergency room visits, the agency says.
Prevention: It’s likely that ADHD is inherited, but there are several ways to prevent it. For instance, it helps to establish a daily routine for your child, including a specific bedtime, mealtime, times to do chores and to watch TV, according to the Mayo Clinic. Avoiding multitasking in front of your child can also help, as well as giving praise and other types of positive reinforcement for good behavior.
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Behavioral ProblemsThe stats: All kids have their own way of acting out, but if yours has a bad temper, argues with you, annoys people on purpose and refuses to follow rules,for example, he or she might have Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is an actual psychological condition, notes Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Prevention: The hospital suggests that praising good behavior and ignoring bad behavior can discourage these problems. Being involved in activities like volunteering, part-time work and after-school activities can also help, according to the federal Forum for Child and Family Statistics. Though, obviously, ignoring dangerous behavior is never a good idea.
Studies have shown, however, that kids subject to harsh punishment were more likely to have behavioral problems later in life, and kids with less able parents were eight times more likely to have behavior problems at school age, according to Medscape.
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Learning DisabilitiesThe stats: About 4.6 million kids have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, according to the National Center for Health Statistics in 2006. The disabilities include Dyslexia and other visual problems as well as problems with coordination.
Prevention: Getting regular health screenings, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol and having a healthy diet for both mother and child are believed to prevent the development of learning disabilities.
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Mental RetardationThe stats: Mental retardation affects between 1% and 3% of the U.S. population, but specific causes have only been found in about 25% of cases, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some of the more identifiable causes include Down Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome. Prevention: Mental retardation can be caused by poor nutrition in the most critical year of life: the first. Exposure to lead, mercury, and other toxins can also lead to retardation in early childhood, as well as drinking or using drugs during pregnancy, so needless to say, these should be avoided.
Good prenatal care also lowers the risk of your child developing mental retardation, according to drug company Merck (Stock Quote: MRK).
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Cerebral PalsyThe stats: Cerebral Palsy, possibly a genetic condition that can impair brain functions that control movement, learning and thinking, has been found to be more prevalent among boys, African-Americans and those living in low- and middle-income neighborhoods, though it’s least prevalent among Hispanic kids, according to the CDC.
Prevention: It’s believed that CP can be caused by a lack of blood supplied to a fetus’s brain before birth, as well as infections, bleeding in the brain, severe jaundice and head injury.
Proper treatments of any intrauterine infections might also prevent CP, according to the March of Dimes.
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