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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 July 7; 335(7609): 16.
PMCID: PMC1910648
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One in five US children chronically ill

The prevalence of chronic illness among US children has probably tripled in the past 20 years, fuelled by epidemics in a handful of high profile conditions, such as obesity, asthma, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a recent commentary. Changing diagnostic practices may have played a role, but at least some of the trend represents real increases in illness and disability. The number of children and adolescents eligible for disability benefit from the government increased from 275 000 in 1986 to more than a million 11 years later. More than five million (about 7%) now have a condition that limits their daily activities. The prevalence of all chronic illnesses with or without disability is nearer 18%.

The commentary's authors blame modern lifestyles and environmental changes for the worsening health of the United States' children and warn that as these sick children grow into sick adults the current health and social welfare systems may fail to cope. Productivity and tax revenues will fall while spending on health care and benefits will rise. Quality of life will suffer, and the gap between rich and poor will widen. The government should prepare or all US residents will regret it later, they conclude.


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