Friday, June 29, 2007

Why Is The Next Generation of Adults Fatter, More Asthmatic, and Suffering From Far More Neurological Disorders Than Any Previous Generation

"According to a new report out today, the health care system faces an unprecedented public health time bomb: the next generation of young people is going to need far more in the way of health care services than previous 20- and 30-something generations.

You’d think that with 77 million baby boomers moving toward retirement where taxpayer-financed Medicare picks up the health care tab, employers would get some breathing room. Younger workers generally require much less health care, which translates into lower insurance costs for those who employ them.

But the study in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association documents a grim prognosis for the next generation of workers: they are going to be fatter, more asthmatic, and suffering from far more neurological disorders than any previous generation of American young people. And its young people who are most likely to go without health care coverage.

“We’re going to see increased health expenditures for people in their 20s,” said James Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School and lead author of the report. “They’ll be coming to institutions for health care without any means of paying for it.”

How bad is it? About 18 percent of American children and adolescents are now considered obese, up from just five percent in the early 1970s when the baby boomers were entering the workforce. That translates into earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, chronic conditions that usually require ongoing, often lifelong medical interventions. With obesity already accounting for 10 percent of medical expenses, a doubling of adult rates will add $100 billion a year to health care costs, according to the study.

Childhood asthma persists into adulthood for about a quarter of all persons afflicted with the wheezing disorder. And today, about one in every 11 young persons has asthma, double the rate of the 1980s. Again, that translates into millions of young workers who will need immediate health care assistance as they enter the workforce, even as they lose work days and productivity because of their condition.

Ditto for neurological disorders like attention deficit and autism, which were virtually unheard of in the 1960s and 70s. Perrin and his fellow authors admit that some of the reported rise in these conditions may be associated with diagnostic creep. But whatever the cause, children who need treatments are much more likely to turn into adults who need treatment, and that translates into higher health care costs. “Employees with mental health conditions generate about three times the health care costs of other employees,” the authors noted.

Finally, blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and low-income whites suffer far higher rates of obesity, asthma and attention deficit disorder compared to their better-off counterparts. These are precisely the groups in society most likely to be without health insurance.

The social factors behind these escalating childhood and adolescent epidemics are well-known: rising income inequality, poor diet, unrestricted television junk food advertising aimed at children and young adults, sedentary lifestyles, rising rates of pre-term and multiple births, environmental exposures – especially for poor, urban children. Universal health care does nothing to solve any of these problems.

We’ve already been told that if the social factors leading to these epidemics go unaddressed, the next generation of Americans may be the first in our history to lead shorter lives. What this latest study points out is that they’re also going to consume a lot more health care all along the way......."



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