The number of children who take medication for chronic diseases has
jumped dramatically, another troubling sign that many of the youngest
Americans are struggling with obesity, doctors say.
The number of children who take pills for type 2 diabetes — the kind
that's closely linked to obesity — more than doubled from 2002 to 2005, to
a rate of six out of 10,000 children. That suggests that at least 23,000
privately insured children in the USA are now taking diabetes medications,
according to authors of the new study in today's Pediatrics.
Doctors also saw big increases in prescriptions for high
cholesterol, asthma and attention deficit and hyperactivity. There was
smaller growth for drugs for depression and high blood pressure.
"We've got a lot of sick children," says author Emily Cox, senior
director of research with Express Scripts, which administers drug benefit
programs for private insurance plans. "What we've been seeing in adults,
we're also now seeing in kids."
Type 2 diabetes was once known as adult-onset. But Cox says her records
show kids as young as 5 being treated with prescription diabetes
Cox based her study on prescription records of nearly 4 million
children a year, ages 5 to 19, covered by Express Scripts. She says her
findings may not apply to the 40% of children who are uninsured or covered
by government health plans.
Unless these children make major changes — such as eating healthier and
exercising more — they could be facing a lifetime of illness, Cox
"These are not antibiotics that they take for seven to 10 days," Cox
says. "These are drugs that many are taking for the rest of their
Cox couldn't explain one surprising finding: Most of the increase in
drugs for diabetes, attention deficit/hyperactivity and depression was
seen in girls. The gender gap was most striking in diabetes: While the
number of boys taking medication grew by 39%, the number of girls using
them climbed by 147%, Cox found.