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Kids Already Have Middle Age Illnesses: What Can We Do?

Kids Already Have Middle Age Illnesses: What Can We Do?

The woes of adulthood are hitting today’s children too fast and not only via the pernicious influences of popular culture, marketing and peer pressure. More and more children are being diagnosed with chronic diseases that have previously been only seen in middle age adults.

Harvard Medical School researchers have found that there has been a 27 percent increase in the number of children aged 8-17 diagnosed with high blood pressure; one reason is a rise among children in obesity (which is also rising among kids around the globe). Today’s children are also at very real risk of type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, sleep apnea and joint pain, all diseases that had struck previous generations as they entered middle age.

Indeed, earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first guidelines for type 2 diabetes, sometimes called adult-onset diabetes, among children, as pediatricians have not been trained to identify and diagnose this disease. Doctors are also expressing concerns that, in order to treat these diseases in children, they are prescribing them with the same medicines that adults take but with no idea about the long-term effects.

Minority children are especially at risk. The new study also found that, in African-American children, blood pressure was 28 percent higher than in non-Hispanic white children. Previous research has found that there is a higher rate of diabetes in minorities than in whiteAfrican-Americans and Native Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as whites and Hispanics, 1.7 times as likely.

We Know What’s Raising Blood Pressure in Kids: Let’s Do Something About It!

In the new study, researchers drew their data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III which collects information on health, eating and lifestyle behaviors. 3,200 children were involved in the survey in 1988-1994 and more than 8,300 in 1999-2008. While the children found to have high blood pressure did not have diagnosed hypertension (which requires a threshold blood pressure reading of 140 -90), having elevated blood pressure (anything above 120-80) at a young age sets one at real risk for future serious health problems.

We do know some of the main culprits that are contributing to kids’ health woes. The researchers point out that the vast majority (more than 80 percent) of the children in the study consumed some 2,300 milligrams of salt, well over the recommended 1,500 milligrams. They also note that around 75 percent of the salt that Americans consumes comes from processed, addictive foods.

It’s a clear sign that the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture needs to step in and regulate the amount of sodium (and sugar, and fat) in such foods. Cries of “nanny state” are frequently raised at such suggestions, but we need to keep social and demographic factors in mind. By 2020, more than half of Americans under 18 will belong to a racial or ethnic minority group; now is the time for the U.S. to take serious measures in the packaged foods that are aggressively marketed to children and and to Hispanic children in particular, according to one study.

Such foods are not only often cheaply priced but are all too often the most readily available in urban and lower-income communities where minority families live in disproportionate numbers. Even when healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are available, their price often far exceeds that of packaged and processed foods. Families watching their budgets may also feel they have little choice but to choose foods that will last a long time: not everyone has time to get to the store or outdoor market routinely for fresh produce.

The majority of students at the small university in Jersey City where I teach are minorities, many of whom live in urban neighborhoods. They are in their late teens or early twenties and quite a few have high blood pressure (as I learned when they explained why they missed a couple of classes for doctor’s appointments). Last spring, one student disappeared for two weeks due to being hospitalized when his blood sugar reached elevated levels; he was subsequently diagnosed with diabetes. Rare is the student whom I’ve seen eating a fresh apple. Based on what they munch on before class, breakfast means an Egg McMuffin.

More children than ever are at risk of developing chronic health problems that can limit their activities in their adult lives. New guidelines for school lunches and for what foods are available to students on school grounds via vending machines are a solid first step but just that. The new study is a wake-up call to use what we know and get serious about making changes in the food that many Americans, and especially many young Americans, eat every day.

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190 comments

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12:21PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

Oops! My finger apparently had a life of its own ... it should naturally read "dangers" and not "fangers" whatever that might be - LOL.

12:01PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

To Sarah H - sounds like we had the same upbringing = healthy and active, full of "fangers" and lots of fun!!!

7:26AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

When I was a child, we stayed outside all day playing. We were active! We ran, rode bikes... At lunch time we were called in to eat then back out until supper when we were called in again, then in summer back out until dark (or sometimes after). Today children sit inside and watch cartoons or play video games all day with no exercise.

4:17AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Noted

2:00PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

We need to push for healthier foods in our schools and communities. Call your member of Congress about your concerns about what our children are eating and that the now stalled Farm Bill MUST include access to low cost, healthy food, as well as funding for health and food education programs in our schools. All schools should have organic school gardens.
We also need to let Congress know we do not want genetically modified foods, inhumane treatment of livestock, and our food supply poisioned with pesticides.
Many in the media are predicting that this generation may be the first not to outlive their parents with 100% preventable diseases. We must do all we can to prevent more children from obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

2:04AM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

After trying to kill our kids off with sugar, which didn't get them a bad name, just the sugar, they now do sugar free. There should be a clue in the fact that Aspartame is made from the poo of E coli bacteria. Can't think of a better reason not to drink it. A recent trip to try and buy lemonade for a party left us empty handed as every make of lemonade now has these artificial sweeteners in. Sugar is bad enough but to add poo from a bacteria that causes stomach problems makes you wonder what lengths the food industry will go to for a quick profit!

11:03AM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

Eat better, but even then, most can't because of the lack of money, since veggies and fruits, good bread is pretty expensive. Good organic meat and produce is also a lot..there needs to be something done about it and I'm afraid it's up to the useless government to step up and do something about it instead of spying on everyone and spending money bombing people worldwide.

11:13AM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

We need to boycott farm animals that are not living free range and stop eating animals,etc.being pumped with antibiotics,etc.I quit smoking,cause cig. are bad for you,but I blame farm factory's and farmers who don't let their animal be free range and don't refuse to pump with hormons,etc. for the sickness,maybe sm. % is from pollution,junk food,etc.Thats what I believe. Just like I don't believe wild animals can't be released back into the wild.They the wild animals can't be trusted or a pet,cause they will turn on you,why,because they are still wild.Think about it,don't let others think for you!Good way of weeding people out,without some people knowing how evil and greedy your heart is,to do nothing to change the outcome.Eating miniplated mans food is like taking hormones,etc. every day yourself,my guess is you would become sick like everyone else,but everyone is different,so outcome may come sooner for some and others,not at all.You have to ask,would you take penicillian every day by mouth or hormone pills for rest of your life or every day for very long term,if no,why not?

11:06AM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

We need to boycott farm animals that are not living free range and stop eating animals,etc.being pumped with antibiotics,etc.I quit smoking,cause cig. are bad for you,but I blame farm factory's and farmers who don't let their animal be free range and refuse to pump with hormons,etc. for the sickness,maybe sm. % is from pollution,junk food,etc.Thats what I believe. Just like I don't believe wild animals can't be released back into the wild.They the wild animals can't be trusted or a pet,cause they will turn on you,why,because they are still wild.Think about it,don't let others think for you!Good way of weeding people out,without some people knowing how evil and greedy your heart is,to do nothing to change the outcome.Eating miniplated mans food is like taking hormones,etc. every day yourself,my guess is you would become sick like everyone else,but everyone is different,so outcome may come sooner for some and others,not at all.You have to ask,would you take penicillian every day by mouth or hormone pills for rest of your life or every day for very long term,if no,why not?

10:49AM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

It's like the US doesn't know what's good for them, or they would rather keep doing what's bad for them! I don't understand why there are such cries of "nanny state" when trying to introduce regulation about sugar and salt levels in processed foods. Unless you put regulations limits in, companies are going to keep adding in more and more things that contribute to health problems, because they taste better and are addictive, leading to more profits. They only way to stop that is by changing the laws!!

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