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In the News

A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Jul 24, 2013
08:51 AM

Increase in Children Diagnosed with Adult Diseases

A recent study shows young kids are being diagnosed with diseases that usually strike middle-aged people including diabetes, obesity and elevated blood pressure. What can parents do to stop this?

Increase in Children Diagnosed with Adult Diseases

Kids should be hanging out with friends, playing sports – you know, just being kids. But the recent increase in children diagnosed with adult diseases is preventing them from partaking in such activities.

An American Heart Association study shows that elevated blood pressure in kids ages 8 to 17 rose 27 percent over a 13-year period.

The study compared over 3,200 children that were involved in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III in 1988-1994, to a more recent NHANES survey of over 8,300 in 1999-2008. The kids in the more recent survey were considered to be overweight.

According to an article in Time, "children with body mass index (BMI) readings in the top 25 percent of their age group were two times more likely to have elevated blood pressure than the kids in the bottom 25 percent."

The kids did not have hypertension but had elevated blood pressure (anything over 120 over 80 mm is considered to be elevated). Having an elevated blood pressure at such a young age leaves kids at risk to develop hypertension later in life.

Generally children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes; this occurs when the body does not make enough insulin-producing cell to produce glucose in the blood. Recently more children have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by fat cells that enlarge with weight gain and stop the body's ability to break down sugars.

These adult illnesses are hitting home. Henry Ford Health System pediatrician Dr. Stacy Leatherwood has seen an increase in the number of children in her office diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, children who are "pre-diabetic" and children who are considered obese based on their body mass index or BMI.

Reason for diseases

These diseases are mainly related to diet and lifestyle choices. "Eating a healthy diet, for example, is not just about food itself but the food environment, which is constructed around cultural, social and economic factors that determine the diversity of food choices and the accessibility of these options," according to Time.

A study from the journal Pediatrics found that sodium intake is related to the risk of developing pre-high blood pressure and high blood pressure. Children who have limited access to healthy food choices have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure because they are more likely to consume foods high in sodium such as fast food.

A child's future health

If adult diseases are diagnosed during childhood, they can have an impact on the child's well being that will affect them their whole life.

"These disease cause stress on the body and affect functioning of organs such as the kidneys and the heart," Leatherwood says. "If we're not aggressive about dealing with obesity while our children are young, we may be facing more problems later on with less healthy adults and shorter lifespan."

Tips to help your kid

The early onset of diseases like Type 2 diabetes, obesity and elevated blood pressure are related to poor lifestyle choices. "The key is to starting early with healthy habits," Leatherwood says.

She suggests adopting the 5-2-1-0 method, which consists of five fruits and vegetables, two hours of less of screen time (TV, computer, iPhones, etc.) one hour or more of physical activities and zero sweet drinks. Leatherwood says the pediatricians at Henry Ford use this that the American Academy of Pediatrics uses to promote a healthy lifestyle.

If parents eat healthy and exercise, their children are likely to model their behavior. Help your kids stay healthy by having the whole family practice a healthy lifestyle.

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