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Child and Adolescent Health Issues

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity has increased dramatically in recent decades. Currently, almost 20 percent of school-aged children are obese, with the highest rates found among Hispanic/Latino and African American children. This is a disturbing development because obesity places children at higher risk for a number of health conditions, including asthma and type 2 diabetes. Children with obesity also are more likely to have low self-esteem, experience depression and anxiety, and be bullied.

Mental Health

Autism spectrum disorder refers to a group of developmental disorders characterized by (1) difficulty communicating and interacting with others and (2) repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests and activities. The symptoms of autism spectrum disorder may appear as early as infancy. The severity of the symptoms and the degree of disability can vary widely. Diagnosis relies on a medical examination and careful review of the child’s history.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects millions of children. Symptoms include difficulty maintaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Symptoms of ADHD in a child may be predominantly inattention or predominantly hyperactive-impulsive behavior or a mixture of the two. Diagnosing ADHD relies on a comprehensive examination and detailed data gathering conducted by a pediatrician, psychologist, or other health professional with expertise in ADHD.

Depression is a serious mental health issue among adolescents. While it is not uncommon for adolescents to feel sad at times, and perhaps use “depression” to describe how they are feeling, approximately five percent of adolescents will experience a much more serious emotional disturbance, a condition that health professionals refer to as major or clinical depression. This is a medical illness that can lead to significant problems at home and school and that increases the risk of both substance abuse and suicide, the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 15 to 24. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for depression.

Anxiety is another important mental health issue for children and adolescents. Although it is not unusual for children and adolescents to feel anxious about school or friendships or when they are facing new, unfamiliar situations, when these feelings of anxiety persist for weeks or months and interfere with their schoolwork or relationships with family and peers, this may be an indication that they have an anxiety disorder. Although there are effective treatments, anxiety disorders often go unrecognized and untreated.

Substance Use Disorders

Adolescence is a time with the brain is vulnerable to substance use disorders. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has a helpful analogy, stating, “The adolescent brain is often likened to a car with a full functioning gas pedal (the reward system) but weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex).” And we know that the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal and prescription drugs by teenagers is not uncommon. One of the most important objectives with respect to adolescent substance use is to identify and address the problem as soon as possible so that the adolescent can obtain professional help and family can get the education and support it needs.

Injuries

Childhood injuries are a major health concern, with millions of children treated in hospital emergency departments each year. Many of these injuries occur in the home, while others occur during sporting or recreational activities, and still others when children are in motor vehicles. Learning effective prevention strategies and using appropriate safety equipment can greatly reduce the risk of many of these injuries and in some cases can even result in saving lives. 

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