2.22.2010 5:00 PM

Children Are the Future AND Our Future Health Care Costs

Environmental hazards are turning childhood into a pre-existing condition.

children look excited at islandwood summer camp
Photo: IslandWood

By Robyn O'Brien

According to the American Medical Association, more than a quarter of all U.S. children have a chronic health condition, new research suggests, a significant increase from the rate seen in earlier decades and a statistic that looms large for the nation's efforts to subdue rising health care costs.

Since when did childhood become a pre-existing condition?

While fewer children today are affected by congenital defects, infectious diseases and accidents than they were 50 years ago, the study, released online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "speaks to the fact that children need continuous access to health care."

The rate of chronic conditions increased from 12.8% in 1994 to 26.6% in 2006. Latino and black youths and males were more likely to have health problems. And while the study highlights the role that these health conditions are playing in driving profitability for health care providers and pharmaceutical makers, it also highlights our ability to affect remarkable change in the health of our children, stating: "... cultural, lifestyle and environmental conditions appear to be the root cause of many pediatric illnesses."

Genetics haven't changed. Our environment has, and so has our paradigm. The unhealthy truth is that today, our children are valued as thru-puts in our for-profit medical system as users of ADHD medications, asthma inhalers, insulin pumps and epinephrine injectors, as stated in Senate testimony by Distinguished Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and Visiting Professor at Stanford University, Jerome Kassirer, M.D. Our children are marketed to with food product placements in movies.

But, as any parent knows, our children are worth more. They are our future innovators, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors and leaders. And together, we can create change in the cultural, lifestyle and environmental conditions that the American Medical Association today acknowledges as "the root cause of many pediatric illnesses" and place the same value on the lives of the American children that has already been placed on the lives of children in other countries who are not exposed to these same environmental conditions.

As we work to restore the health of our children, one mom, one dad, one bite, one kid at a time, we can affect the remarkable change that our children deserve.

"Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen." ~Michael Jordan

It's time to make it happen.

Robyn O'Brien is the founder of AllergyKids, which is working to help people protect the health of their families.

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