The most common illnesses affecting children and teens are viral and bacterial infections like the common cold, flu, and ear infections. However, there are more than a few diseases that are most common among adults that can also afflict children.1 2
Obesity and overweight in children is a major public health problem. Almost 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese according to their body mass index (BMI), a measure based on their age, height, and weight. Too much high sugar and high-fat food and too little physical activity are the main cause. Many children who are overweight maintain their obesity as adults, leading to obesity-related complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke (cardiovascular diseases), diabetes, high cholesterol, some cancers, arthritis, and sleep apnea, a form of sleep-disordered breathing.
A child may snore or briefly stop breathing at night because of obesity, but the most common underlying condition causing sleep apnea in children is an enlargement of the adenoids and tonsils.
If the problem is obesity, then weight loss can be the remedy. Otherwise, treatments include medications such as topical nasal steroids or anti-allergy drugs; surgical removal of the tonsils and adenoids; positive airway pressure therapy; and oral appliances.
Fatty Liver Disease
Childhood obesity is also linked to an increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease among children. This condition can be prevented and reversed by attaining a healthy weight through diet and physical activity.
High Blood Pressure (hypertension)
As in adults, high blood pressure occurs in children, so screening for hypertension should be part of a child's physical exam. Long-term high blood pressure leads to cardiovascular diseases, including stroke. Although usually caused by obesity, it can also result from kidney or cardiovascular problems. Hypertension can usually be controlled by weight loss, exercise, and cutting back on salt in the diet, but medications may be needed. For additional information, see the Timely Topic, Less Salt for Better Health.
The three main factors that affect cholesterol levels in children are heredity, diet, and obesity. In most cases, children with high cholesterol have a parent who also has elevated cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular diseases. Exercise and diet are the main treatment approaches, but medications may be necessary, especially for some types of extremely high cholesterol caused by heredity. Pediatricians suggest testing for cholesterol between ages 9 and 11. To promote health for all children and counter high cholesterol, a child’s diet should emphasize foods low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The amount of fat a child consumes should be 30% or less of total daily calories (45 to 65 grams of fat or less per day). (This suggestion does NOT apply to children under the age of two.)
Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes (either type 1 or type 2) increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes-related complications at an early age. Type 1 occurs in early childhood from an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 2 is largely preventable, and prediabetes may be reversible by avoiding a diet high in added sugars, avoiding overweight and obesity, and by undertaking plentiful physical activity.
Some mental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism are typically diagnosed in childhood. But many other types also affect children, like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Do not hesitate to seek treatment for childhood mental problems. They are most treatable if addressed early. Your pediatrician or other health care provider can help with this. For additional information, see the Timely Topic, Mental Illness.
Other Health Conditions
Other health conditions that affect children, as well as adults, include: glaucoma, gallstones, kidney stones, shingles, stroke (see the Timely Topic, Stroke, Prevention), arthritis, and osteoporosis.
This report presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. Catalyst for Children is not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures, and suggestions that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader's own physician or other medical professional based on the reader's own individual conditions, symptoms, or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise, or other assistance or advice, the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. Catalyst for Children specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage, or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this report or participating in any programs described in this report.
1 Torpy JM, Campbell A, Glass RM. Chronic Diseases of Children. JAMA. 2010;303(7):682. doi:10.1001/jama.303.7.682
2 Adult conditions kids can get too. Web MD Daily May 20, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/children/ss/slideshow-adult-conditions-kids-get?ecd=wnl_day_032022&ctr=wnl-day-032022_lead_cta&mb=o6ASCn0PTqHA8ia3B0pcviiZUamOQtErSih2mGsj%40qc%3d
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