Healthier children

August 28, 2007

Arecent study reported more instances of hypertension in younger children than previously realized. In addition, many young children are malnourished, causing them to be underweight or overweight. While much attention has rightly been paid to the troubling increase in childhood obesity, the growing prevalence of other, linked diseases among children should be equally alarming and generate more preventive action on the part of parents, doctors and schools.

The study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association last week found that doctors fail to diagnose high blood pressure in more than 75 percent of young children who have it, in part perhaps because some symptoms are not manifested in children. Another study published this year found higher incidences of Type 2 diabetes among mostly African-American young teens in Baltimore.

It's not surprising that incidences of high blood pressure and diabetes are increasing among young people when the rate of childhood obesity is estimated at 18 percent. Children who are too fat as well as too thin are generally not getting proper nutrition - too much or too little food, poor eating habits and lack of proper exercise can all contribute to health problems that can have lifelong consequences.

Beyond the federal Women, Infants and Children program that provides nutritional supplements as well as information, more mothers and fathers need to be made aware of what constitutes good nutrition, such as not giving children solid food until they are at least 6 months old and introducing more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer juices.

Pediatricians also should try to have lengthier discussions with parents about healthy nutrition choices and good eating habits. More school systems are making healthier foods available to students. Maryland's Board of Education has put reasonably strict limits on the fat, saturated fat and sugar content of snacks that can be sold in cafeterias, and vending machine sales of soft drinks and candy are restricted to after-school hours. But the wellness movement in schools needs to go still further, particularly in promoting physical education, which has been de-emphasized. Such individual and institutional approaches are essential to increasing the number of healthy American children.

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