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Obesity and low birthweight mar health of kids

Rising obesity rates and a large percentage of children born with low birthweights are dragging down the overall health of American children in their first decade of life, according to a report tracking the health and well-being of young children in the United States.

While U.S. children overall have seen improvements in their well-being in recent years, American children aged 6 to 11 are four times more likely to be obese than similarly aged children in the 1960s, the report found.

The report, led by researchers at Duke University in North Carolina and the Foundation for Child Development, a private advocacy group, looked at the well-being of children in early childhood, those from birth to age five, and middle childhood, or those aged 6 to 11, from 1994 to 2006.

The researchers found obesity among children in middle childhood is nearly four times more common than in children of the same age in a national survey in 1960s. For children aged 2 to 5, it is three times higher.

"These are dramatic increases in the prevalence of overweight children in American society from one generation to the next," the researchers wrote. "The importance of this trend for the health and well-being of children is difficult to exaggerate."

They said overweight children have greater risks of type-2 diabetes, and often have elevated risk factors associated with heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

They also found that the percentage of babies born with low birthweights rose 12.3 percent from 1994 to 2005, an increase they said was likely tied to delayed childbearing among working mothers and an increased use of fertility drugs.

Low birthweight has been linked in large studies to a higher risk of developmental and learning problems and to lower academic achievement. It also has been linked with higher rates of chronic health conditions.

Other trends were more positive.

The researchers found significant improvements in the mortality rates of children, with the most dramatic improvement for children aged 1 to 4. Death rates among these children fell to 29.4 deaths in 100,000 in 2005, compared with 42.9 deaths per 100,000 in 1994.

For those aged 5 to 9, rates of death fell 27 percent to 14.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2005.

The researchers cite a host of contributing factors, ranging from better health care and nutrition to car safety seats.

The report also noted a dramatic 84 percent drop in the rates of lead poisoning among children aged 0 to 6. Lead poisoning can result in physical, neurological and cognitive problems.

Still, many children remain at risk for moderate levels of lead in their blood should continue to be monitored, they said.


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