diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol

More Kids Taking Drugs to Combat Obesity-Related Health Problems

November 05, 2008 08:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Doctors are more frequently prescribing drugs to kids with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and depression.

Doctors Blame Obesity for Rise in Medication Use

The journal Pediatrics released a study of chronic medication use in children ages 5 to 19 from 2002 to 2005 in its November issue.

"The main message of our study is that we are using chronic medication a lot more than we used to," said Donna Halloran, a professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University, to WebMD.

The study found that America's youth more than doubled their use of medications for type 2 diabetes, which is closely associated with obesity. The usage of the drugs in girls between the ages 10 and 14 showed a soaring increase of 166 percent. Childhood obesity has increased fourfold in the past three decades, according to Harvard University researchers.

It was also found that usage patterns increased for medications associated with blood pressure, cholesterol, attention-deficit disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), asthma and depression. Obesity puts children at risk for these conditions, said researchers who worked on the study. And while there is no known link between obesity and ADHD, pediatricians are more and more choosing drug therapy to treat ADHD.

“Ten or 15 years ago we weren't even discussing these conditions, which were mainly in adults,'' said Emily Cox, a senior director of research at Express Scripts, who worked on the study, to Bloomberg. “Now we are seeing a growing number of children being treated for chronic conditions that they are going to take into adulthood.''
But Halloran of St. Louis University commented that more medication use is not necessarily bad news. "Better diagnosis for all these things is good. High blood pressure needs to be treated. Asthma also, and diabetes and depression."

Background: Children and medications

There are many risks involved in administering drugs to small children, and a lack of medical knowledge on the topic persists. The Washington Post reported last year that doctors have little information to guide them in prescribing drugs to kids, due to a reluctance to test drugs on children. Federal regulators have, over the past decade, convinced or forced pharmaceutical companies to conduct more studies, but about two-thirds of the medications on the market commonly given to children remain untested on children.

"Are there children dying because of this? I don't know. Are there children being less effectively treated because of this? Probably yes. But I can't tell you because I don't know," said Richard L. Gorman of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to the Washington Post. "That's the problem: We don't know what we don't know."

The lack of information may be why drug errors, including medicine mix-ups, accidental overdoses and adverse drug reactions, harm about one out of 15 hospitalized children, the Associated Press reported in April. The estimate was much higher than earlier ones and brought public attention to an issue recently spotlighted by cases such as the accidental drug overdose of actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins last year.

In March, the FDA announced that the improper use of prescription cough medicine Tussionex caused the deaths of several patients, including young children. The FDA recommends that children under the age of two should not take over-the-counter cough or cold medications because of dangerous side effects. In October, the FDA held a public hearing on the use of over-the-counter cold medications for small children, and concluded that it needs to conduct more research before instituting a ban.

Reference: Giving medicine to children

Despite the risks involved, parents can protect their children by following the FDA's recommendations. Parents should work with doctors and pharmacists to ensure that drugs are being given in the right dosages, and to avoid harmful drug interactions or tampering.

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