10 Big Changes in Kids’ Health

One of the most memorable lines spoken by a wise professor on the first day of medical school was, “Half of what you’ll learn here in the next four years will turn out to be wrong. The problem is, we don’t know which half.” That has always stuck, and a common theme of parent trainings these days is, “We used to believe …”

What follows is a listing of some of the more glaring of these changes. Just more evidence that we don’t know what we don’t know.

  1. Antibiotics may be a blessing, but they’re also a curse, and not nearly as widely prescribed as before. Turns out most ear infections, sore throats, and upper respiratory bugs are viral, not bacterial, and turn up their noses at our pink bubblegum medicine or our Z-paks (see The Pink Medicine Lie).
  2. Second hand smoke has big, far-reaching effects. Children who are exposed have vastly higher rates of asthma, respiratory infections and allergies, just to name a few. And it doesn’t have to be parents continuous smoking in the home, casual exposure can do damage as well. More reason to prohibit smoking in all public spaces.
  3. Childhood diseases that were common 15 years ago are now near-extinct as a result of vaccines. Chickenpox, meningitis, rotavirus, even RSV are rapidly fading threats. Say what you like about the HPV vaccine, it will one day save the lives of many of our now-preteens.
  4. At the same time, some bad players we thought were gone are back, as a result of fear and misinformation. Pertussis and measles are two of the biggies, and watch for others to make a comeback. Some, like rubella (German measles), can have devastating consequences for the growing fetus.
  5. Childhood obesity has exploded. One in three kiddos is overweight or obese, and while the latest numbers look like the we’re slowing the trend, we’ll be dealing with the the repercussions for the foreseeable future. Every body system is adversely affected by the excess poundage and we haven’t even begun to deal with the health consequences.
  6. Medical information is no longer ours (the docs) to dole out. The internet offers opinions about anything and everything. Some sources are hugely informative, some not so much, so take care in where you seek knowledge. The Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and KidsHealth are all reputable sources, and you know we’ll always give it to you straight here at MOC.
  7. Autism and disorders on the spectrum, like Asperger’s, have become more recognized as a significant threat to our little ones. Though we haven’t yet identified specific causal relationships, diagnosis and therapies have progressed tremendously and more is learned every day.
  8. Pediatric use of medicines that were considered strictly for adults (like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and cholesterol lowering drugs) has risen dramatically. An unintended side effect — children seeking emergency care for drug poisoning — has risen, too. We don’t yet know the long-term effects of some of these meds on growing bodies, but it’s something to be concerned about.
  9. BACK TO SLEEP. Twenty years ago babies were routinely put to sleep on their bellies. Common wisdom was that back sleeping increased the risk of choking on spit up breast milk or formula. This was emphatically incorrect, and the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome has been cut by more than half by Back to Sleep, a significant victory.
  10. Child maltreatment is way more common than we ever acknowledged, and it isn’t limited to the poor and underserved. For a culture that considers itself child focused, we do a lousy job of protecting the smallest and most vulnerable across all demographics. Thanks to recent research, we now have evidence of the devastating effect of abuse and neglect on future cognitive development. We must do better.

Just think what will change in the next twenty years. I can’t wait to see it.



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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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