What should we do? Since 2002, chronic prescription medication use in children 5 to 19 years old has skyrocketed, according to a study in the November 2008 Pediatrics. Leading the way, prescriptions for type 2 diabetes in kids have more than doubled, with the highest rise in girls aged 10 to 14. Asthma medication use is up more than 46 percent, ADHD medication use up more than 40 percent, and cholesterol medication use up by 15 percent, all in a very short time. Blood pressure medication use and anti-depressant use are also up since 2002. The increases are seen in both boys and girls, but are accelerating faster in girls (about twice as fast with antidepressants and ADHD medications, about three times as fast with type 2 diabetes). What’s causing these dramatic rises? Why are they faster in girls? I suspect we are seeing the effects of a combination of factors: the diseases becoming more common, the diagnoses becoming more likely to be considered, and treating kids’ chronic conditions with prescription medications becoming more likely when a diagnosis is made.
I’m struck, though, that each of these conditions is profoundly linked in at least one way to kids’ lifestyles: how much they exercise, what they eat, how much they weigh, their environmental exposures. While I am thrilled that prescription medications are available to help children who need them, to me this study rings out as a call for action. There are steps we can take now to prevent these conditions, and to manage them more effectively.
It’s time to give greater attention to healthy living in kids – building increased active play, and tastier, healthier foods, and decreased environmental toxins into our home lives, into our school curricula, into our school lunches, into our media, into our digital games, and into extra-curricular fun. We’re going to be spending on our children’s health one way or another – how much better to focus on healthier ways to prevent and manage our most pressing kids’ health problems – and to enjoy childhood!
Emily R. Cox, Donna R. Halloran, Sharon M. Homan, Sherry Welliver, and Douglas E. Mager Trends in the Prevalence of Chronic Medication Use in Children: 2002–2005. Pediatrics 2008; 122: e1053-e1061.