Dynamics of Obesity and Chronic Health Conditions Among Children and Youth

A study of the course of obesity, asthma and other chronic childhood ailments over time reveals the dynamic nature of these conditions and underscores the need for continuous, comprehensive health care services for all children.

Although the increase in childhood obesity and other chronic conditions has been well documented, patterns of how these change over time have not been widely examined. This study follows three nationally representative cohorts of children ages 2 to 8 years at the beginning of each study period. Cohorts were followed for up to six years, from 1988-1994 (cohort 1, n=2337), 1994-2000 (cohort 2, n=1759), and 2000-2006 (n=905). Chronic conditions were grouped into four categories: obesity, asthma, other physical conditions and behavioral/learning problems. The main outcome measure was a parent report of a child having a health condition that limited activities or schooling or required medicine, special equipment or specialized health services and lasted for more than 12 months.

Key Findings:

  • There was a high prevalence of having a chronic condition during any part of the six-year study period.
  • Prevalence of chronic conditions increased with each subsequent cohort.
  • The presence of a chronic condition was dynamic over time, with much variation in persistence.

These findings indicate that chronic conditions in childhood are both common and dynamic. Future research should examine etiological differences between persistent and remitted cases. Potential limitations to this study include recall bias in parental reporting and lack of objective criteria for diagnoses.