Study: More kids have chronic health conditions

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© Roy Morsch/Corbis

In the last three decades, chronic health problems including obesity, asthma and behavioral and learning problems have been steadily increasing among children. To get a hold of the magnitude of the problem, researchers from MassGeneral Hospital for Children analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Child Cohort, gathered between 1988 and 2006. In their analysis of more than 5,000 children, they found that, in 1994, 12.8% of suffered from chronic health problems; by 2006, that figure had more than doubled to 26.6%. For the most part, this latest snapshot contributes to growing evidence of an upward trend in childhood asthma, as well as growth of childhood obesity, followed by a leveling off most recently. Still, the study authors point out that some of the significant increase in chronic conditions may reflect higher levels of diagnosis. What’s more, they emphasize, their findings also point to the dynamic nature of many conditions—certain problems, such as behavioral or learning challenges, for example, may be treated and overcome during childhood. This remittance factor highlights a critical area for future research, the authors say, to better help public health officials and medical professionals understand what distinguishes the kids who overcome their chronic conditions from those who don’t.

The study included three consecutive groups of children, who were all between the ages of two and eight at the beginning of each six-year study period. As time progressed, the researchers noted a marked increase in chronic conditions, including obesity. In the first group, which included 2,337 children followed from 1988 to 1994, 11.2% had chronic conditions at the beginning of the study period. The second group, followed from 1994 to 2000, included 1,759 children, 16.6% of whom had chronic conditions at the beginning of the study. And in the third group, which included 905 children followed from 2000 to 2006, 25.2% had chronic health problems when the study period began. By the end of each six year period, each group showed a significant increase in chronic conditions: the first group was up to 12.8% by 1994; the second, to 25.1% by 2000; and the third, to 26.6% in 2006.

As with previous studies, this latest research also found highest levels of chronic health problems among boys and black and Hispanic children. Additionally, of all of the groups included in the study, that from the most recent time period—2000 to 2006—had the highest levels of any incidence of persistent health problems, with more than half diagnosed with a chronic condition at some point during the six-year study period.