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The Top 10 Health Concerns for Children – and How to Treat Them

With the joys of parenthood comes a host of worries. According to a report by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, the following are parents’ top 10 health concerns for 2009:

1. Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity continues to outrank all other health problems as the number-one concern for children in the U.S. While 35 percent of adults believed childhood obesity was a major problem in 2008, that number increased to 42 percent in 2009. And for the first time, all three major ethnic groups (white, Hispanic and black) agree that obesity is the most pressing concern facing American children.

Rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the last 25 years, putting many children at risk for diabetes and heart disease, according to a report in Academic Pediatrics. Overweight and obese children are also likely to experience a lowered quality of life, an increased likelihood of contracting several serious disorders and a potential reduction in life expectancy.

There are numerous approaches to treating childhood obesity, but all boil down to a change in diet and lifestyle. Learning to eat well and incorporate physical activity into daily life can be made simpler by getting help from a weight-loss camp for children and teens or weight-loss boarding school.

2. Drug Abuse

According to the UM National Poll, 36 percent of U.S. adults rate drug abuse as a serious problem for children. In fact, drug abuse has held the number-two spot since 2007.

Although rates of illegal drug abuse among teens have been declining over the past few years, abuse of prescription medications and over-the-counter cough medicines remain at high levels, according to the latest Monitoring the Future survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The most common drugs abused by children and teens include alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, and over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Despite the prevalence of teen drug abuse, reports suggest that only 10 percent of adolescents needing help for substance abuse problems actually receive treatment. Research shows that a majority of teens requiring substance abuse treatment also need treatment for co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or emotional or behavioral disorders.

The key to combating drug abuse among children and adolescents is finding high-quality drug rehab programs that specialize in treating youth. There are a number of wilderness therapy programs, therapeutic boarding schools and teen residential treatment centers that focus on preventing and treating adolescent substance abuse. These therapeutic programs for teens have proven highly effective in stopping drug abuse and addressing co-occurring mental health issues while healing strained family relationships and getting teens back on track in school.

3. Smoking

Holding the number-three spot, down from number one in 2007, is smoking, with 32 percent of U.S. adults rating it as a major problem for young people.

It is estimated that at least 4.5 million U.S. adolescents are cigarette smokers. Each day, nearly 6,000 children under 18 start smoking, and nearly one-third of those youth become regular smokers. Cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence produces significant health problems, including an increase in respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness, and potential retardation in lung growth and lung function.

Prevention is critical when it comes to teen smoking. Make sure your children know that you disapprove of the habit and set a good example by avoiding cigarettes yourself. If your teen is already addicted to nicotine, talk about why they are smoking and ways to quit such as hanging out with friends who don’t smoke or getting involved in new activities.

4. Bullying

Coming in at number four is bullying, a problem cited by 31 percent of U.S. adults as a major issue confronting children.

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimates that about one-third of all U.S. youth are involved in bullying, either as a victim, a perpetrator or both. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that as many as half of all children and adolescents are bullied at least once during their school years, with about one in 10 suffering from ongoing harassment.

Teen bullying can be a serious problem. Bullies and their victims are likely to suffer from a wide range of mental health and behavioral conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, low self-esteem and oppositional defiant disorder.

The first step in addressing teen bullying is to stop the violence and threats. Talk to your child’s teacher, guidance counselor or principal and work together to find solutions to the problem. If the bullying is severe, enrollment in a wilderness program or other residential program for adolescents may be the best option.

5. Internet Safety

Holding steady at number five is Internet safety, with 31 percent of U.S. adults expressing concern over the issue, slightly up from 27 percent in 2008.

The Internet is a fun and informative, but dangerous place. With concerns ranging from Internet predators and identity theft to cyberbullying and Internet addiction, it is important for parents to limit their children’s time on the computer and be aware of what their children are doing online.

Talk to your child about the risks of sharing information online and let them know they can come to you if they feel threatened or uncomfortable with anything happening online. Keep all computers in the house in an open area like the kitchen or family room where you can supervise your child’s Internet usage and utilize privacy settings whenever possible. Rather than spending hours surfing the Web, encourage your child to get involved in sports, hobbies or other extracurricular activities.

6. Child Abuse and Neglect

This issue, which was ranked number 10 in 2007, came in at number six and was rated as a serious concern by 29 percent of U.S. adults, up from 25 percent in 2008.

According to Child Maltreatment 2007, the most recent report from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, approximately 794,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect. The consequences of child maltreatment, which can include physical injuries, low self-esteem, attention disorders, brain damage and violent behavior, can endure well into adolescence and adulthood.

Children should never suffer in silence. Strong family bonds, consistent rules and expectations and open lines of communication are important in preventing child abuse and neglect. Parents who are equipped to cope with the stresses of everyday life, who are resilient and who know when to reach out for support are in the best position to protect their children.

7. Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse continues to be a major problem for American children. Up from number eight in 2008 but down from number four in 2007, 26.5 percent of U.S. adults in the 2009 poll considered alcohol abuse a big problem.

Alcohol is the most frequently used drug by teenagers in the United States. About half of middle school and high school students drink alcohol on a monthly basis, and 14 percent of teens have been intoxicated at least once in the past year. Adolescents who drink alcohol are more likely to become alcoholics later in life, be involved in drunk driving accidents, attempt suicide, engage in sexual activity, drop out of school and experiment with other drugs.

Parents have a strong influence on their teen’s decision to use alcohol. Teens are most protected when they feel that they can discuss issues like drugs and alcohol with their parents. If your teen has a drinking problem, start the conversation, encourage them to attend self-help groups like AA, and get them involved in a wilderness therapy program or residential alcohol abuse treatment program before the problem spirals out of control.

8. Stress

New to the list in 2009, 26 percent of U.S. adults rate stress as a serious concern for children.

A study conducted by the University of Michigan found one-third of teens in the United States feel stressed out on a daily basis. A survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that high-stress teens are twice as likely as low-stress teens to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs.

Your children can learn to keep stress under control by taking good care of themselves (e.g., getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising every day). It may also be helpful to learn relaxation techniques, find outlets for fun and recreation, and build a support network of friends and family who can provide help if necessary.

9. Not Enough Opportunities for Physical Activity

Up one spot from 2008, nearly 25 percent of U.S adults rate inactivity as a major problem for kids.

Sedentary lifestyles have become the norm in the U.S., with children spending more time in front of the TV, computer or video game console than reading books, playing outside or engaging in extracurricular activities. Get your kids active by setting a good example, taking advantage of community sports and activities, or signing them up for a fit camp or weight-loss boarding school.

10. Teen Pregnancy

Falling three places from number seven to number 10, 24 percent of U.S adults rated teen pregnancy as a serious problem in 2009.

Approximately one-third of young women in the United States become pregnant during their teens. In addition to increased health risks to mother and baby, there are a number of social and socioeconomic concerns as well. Education about sex and the consequences of pregnancy are essential to lower teen pregnancy rates.

 

By McKayla Arnold