An important study of chronic illness in children uncovered a dramatic change between 1994 and 2006. The study followed thousands of 2 to 8 year old children for 6 years. Twice a year, the researchers looked for the presence of any physical or mental condition that prevented the child from attending school regularly, enjoying usual childhood activities that required frequent doctor visits, ongoing medication, or special medical equipment.
The percentage of American kids with chronic illnesses about doubled between the group ending in 1994 and the group ending in 2006! A stunning 51.5 percent of the kids in the most current group suffered from a chronic illness at some point during the six years they were followed.
Many conditions in children are on the rise, including asthma, autism, ADHD, allergies, genital birth defects, early puberty, and some types of cancers. When illnesses increase so rapidly, it’s not that more kids are suddenly inheriting these conditions, it’s something that has changed in our environment: how we eat, how we move, the toxic chemicals to which we are exposed.
These environmental factors, especially early in life, can turn on and off different genes and have lasting effects (epigenetics).
The good news is that if there are environmental causes of the increases of our most pressing pediatric problems, it suggests there are environmental solutions. Little changes can make a big difference.
Van Cleave, J., Gortmaker, S.L., and Perrin, J.M. “Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth” JAMA. 2010;303(7):623
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