TUESDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- As more American children eat poorly and exercise less, rates of chronic illness such as asthma and diabetes are continuing to rise, researchers are reporting.
And because childhood illness often sets the stage for adult health woes, the U.S. health-care system could be headed toward a crisis in coming decades, experts warn in a number of reports in the June 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"A chronic condition in a child will become a chronic condition in an adult -- we just know that. And what you're talking about for an adult is maybe 10, 20 years of suffering. But with a child, you're talking about maybe 50, 60 years of suffering," said the journal's editor-in-chief, pediatrician Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, during a Tuesday teleconference.
A surge in childhood illness will also have a big impact on the U.S. health-care system, another expert said.
"Given these high rates of [ill children] in the next decade, there are going to be tremendously higher rates of expenditures for health care and social welfare, because a lot of these people will have health disabilities, and they won't be employable," Dr. James Perrin, director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, in Boston, told HealthDay. Perrin is also co-author of a journal analysis of the prevalence and causes of childhood chronic illness.
The special themed issue of JAMA is devoted to chronic childhood illness, defined as any debilitating illness that lasts a year or more past diagnosis. A number of new studies suggest that, in many ways, the health of America's children is getting worse, not better.
Childhood diabetes is one of the prime results of rising obesity rates, which in turn result from more sedentary behaviors and poor diets.
"Children's environments have really changed a lot in the last 30 to 40 years," said Perrin. "By that, we mean a big change in their diets -- much more fast-food, high-calorie foods -- and major changes in their use of electronic media, especially television. They are spending much more time in the home watching television and eating high-calorie foods while they do so."
However, new research finds that the rise in childhood diabetes is still largely attributed to an increase in type 1 disease -- usually thought of as an inherited illness -- rather than an increase in obesity-linked type 2 disease, the form that typically strikes obese adults.