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Few issues are closer to our hearts or more crucial to our future than the health of children. As an abundance of children's health issues hit the media spotlight in 2007, it was a challenge for many parents to keep track of them all or determine which matter most. So as we did at the end of 2005 and 2006, the physicians and editors at KidsHealth sifted through developments affecting kids and families to choose 10 important trends to watch in the year ahead.   

Some strike close to home and involve things parents do routinely to keep their kids safe and healthy. Others, for now at least, seem to be in the hands of lawmakers or scientists, far removed from our immediate lives yet no less important to kids' well being. And at least one might seem to be a world away — so tragic it's difficult to fathom amid our everyday lives.

This list isn't meant to be comprehensive, nor does it suggest that other health issues aren't also important. But we think these 10 subjects will have a lasting impact on children's health in 2008.


Bullying: Not Just Kids' Stuff

Growing recognition of the impact of bullying has prompted new urgency to prevent it in schools and communities.

While bullying is nothing new, school shootings at Virginia Tech and elsewhere highlighted the reach of bullying and how it can escalate far beyond schoolyard scuffles. One new study showed that 90% of elementary school students have been bullied by peers and 60% of kids admitted to being bullies. Other new research points to the long-term effects of bullying. One study found that bullies and their victims are more likely than other kids to be victims of crime outside of school. At least 32 states had passed laws by the end of 2007 that prohibit bullying and set up prevention programs.

What to Watch:

Bullying will continue to move beyond the domain of school discipline and into the realm of public health and safety, with more state and local governments attempting to address the issue through legislation and community programs. Parents will also be called on to take a more active role in broaching the issue with their kids.

For Kids:
Dealing With Bullies
What Kids Say About: Bullying

For Teens:
Dealing With Bullying
Internet Safety: Safe Surfing Tips for Teens
How Can I Help Someone Who's Being Bullied?

For Parents:
Helping Kids Deal With Bullies
Teaching Kids Not to Bully
How Can I Help My Child Deal With a Bully?


Overtraining Little Athletes

With many kids playing and training for organized sports with an intensity once reserved for top-level athletes, doctors are learning more about the lasting impact sports injuries can have on kids' health.

Concussions have become a major concern, particularly in high school football, girls' soccer, and basketball, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a program for coaches, parents, players, and doctors to help them spot signs of concussions. Doctors have also sounded an alarm about overuse injuries like shin splints and Little-League elbow, which have emerged as kids continue to specialize in sports at younger ages. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued prevention guidelines and recommended, among other things, that kids play a variety of sports and take adequate time off between seasons and training sessions.

What To Watch:

With new evidence of how widespread and damaging youth sports injuries can be, many parents might have to examine whether they're allowing kids to push too hard to excel at sports. With this growing awareness, there could be a return to the fundamentals of youth sports — helping kids learn sportsmanship and teamwork; helping them develop a lifelong love of physical activity; and, most important, letting them have fun.

For Kids:
Five Ways to Avoid Sports Injuries
Taking the Pressure Off Sports Competition

For Teens:
Sports and Exercise Safety
Dealing With Sports Injuries
Handling Sports Pressure and Competition

For Parents:
Preventing Children's Sports Injuries
News - AAP Offers Advice for Kids' Sports Safety


The Growing Reach of Retail Health Care

New channels for health care are cropping up, challenging traditional notions of the ideal doctorpatient relationship.

The medical community scrambled to address the growth of quick-care clinics, which have emerged at superstores, groceries, and drugstores to serve families looking for convenient and affordable health care. These outlets, which go by names like Redi Clinic and Minute Clinic, offer treatment for a range of minor illnesses, from sore throats to rashes, with the convenience of a pharmacy just a few steps away. Some family doctors and pediatricians have objected to these clinics, questioning their ability to provide quality care without medical history and follow-up. The traditional providers are concerned about the lack of historical medical records for kids who go to quick-care clinics rather than see one doctor consistently over time.

What To Watch:

Whether this new brand of health care endures remains to be seen. But the concept of a "medical home" will continue to evolve as health care delivery becomes more fragmented. In the meantime, parents, confronted with many new options for accessing health care, will have to be vigilant about keeping track of health care encounters that occur outside the doctor's office.

For Kids:
Going to the Doctor
Going to the Hospital

For Teens:
Talking to Your Doctor
Dealing With an Emergency

For Parents:
Finding Your Way in the Health Care System
Your Child's Checkups
Knowing Your Child's Medical History
What You Need to Know in an Emergency
Finding a Doctor for Your Child


Keeping Child's Play Safe

A wave of toy recalls put new questions about toy safety — and the dangers of lead exposure — in the spotlight.

From Barbie to Thomas the Tank Engine, some of America's most popular toys were hit by safety recalls. The yanking of millions of toys from store shelves raised new concerns about how to choose safe toys and keep unsafe items out of kids' hands. And since many of the recalls involved concerns about lead exposure, new attention was also paid to the risks of lead poisoning — when chronic exposure to lead brings on a host of behavior, learning, and developmental problems.

What to Watch:

With more and more products coming from overseas, many public officials are calling on congress to ensure better enforcement of U.S. safety standards on foreign-made goods sold here, particularly those for children. Safety scares about popular toys will have parents on high alert when they're picking out playthings.

For Parents:
Choosing Safe Toys
News - Putting Lead in Perspective in This Holiday Season
News - Toy Recall Update: Mattel Recalls 9 Million Toys
Lead Poisoning


Food Allergies: Outlawing PB&J

As food allergies become more prevalent and more persistent among kids, the medical community is trying to find out why — and how to deal with the trend.

The incidence of food allergies doubled over the last decade and now affects approximately 3 million school-age children and 1 in every 17 kids age 3 or younger. Research suggests some food allergies are lasting longer into childhood than in the past. Food allergies can have far-reaching effects on every aspect of a family's home and social life, as parents try to manage kids' exposure to allergens. Even kids who don't have food allergies are affected, facing new restrictions on what they can eat and bring to daycare, schools, summer camp, and even birthday parties. A recent federal law required food-makers to plainly state whether their products contain any of the top food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified food allergies as a public health issue and funded research to learn what causes them and to develop options for treatment and prevention.

What to Watch:

As the incidence of food allergies continues to rise among kids, more families and communities will be contending with them, whether their kids have allergies or not. With more school lunchrooms becoming peanut-free zones, staples like PB&J could become relics of the past.

For Kids:
Learning About Allergies
Food Allergies

For Teens:
Food Allergies
Nut and Peanut Allergy

For Parents:
Food Allergies
All About Allergies
News - Kids Having Allergic Reactions to Peanuts at Much Younger Age


Lost Childhoods

For most kids, childhood is a time of playing, learning, and making friends. But in more than 20 countries, thousands of kids serve as soldiers on the front lines of brutal conflicts.

Child soldiers serve as human mine detectors, messengers, spies, sex slaves, and combatants toting AK-47s and M-16s. Many of them have been kidnapped and forced into service; some join out of desperation. According to human rights groups there are about 300,000 child soldiers worldwide, and for the most part their plight has received little attention around the world. That changed in 2007 with the publication of "Long Way Gone," a best-selling memoir by former child soldier Ishmael Beah that tells how he was orphaned, drugged, indoctrinated, and forced to slaughter prisoners by government forces in Sierra Leone's civil war.

What to Watch:

Experts say that kids continue to be conscripted as soldiers, especially in Africa, in conflicts that resemble organized plunder more than ideological struggle, making it difficult for warlords to inspire the allegiance of adults. That makes children — loyal, easily manipulated, and in great supply — better recruits. The recent spotlight on child soldiers has helped create more awareness, but the exploitation of children in war is far from over. What remains to be seen is how far the civilized world will go to end this practice.

For Kids:
Worrying About War
Why I Give: Freddi's Story

For Teens:
When Loved Ones Go to War

For Parents:
How to Talk to Your Child About the News
Getting Kids to Give: Lynda's Story
When a Parent Goes to War


Obesity: Beyond the Body

It's long been known that obesity is linked to such medical conditions as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and cancer, but its psychological and social consequences took center stage this year.

One study showed that overweight kids and teens might be the target of bias and stereotyping by their peers and teachers, and even their parents. Another showed that obese girls were less likely to attend college than their peers. As these social and psychological aspects become better understood, treatment options are likely to look beyond diet and exercise and address the mental components of obesity.

What to Watch:

The fight against childhood obesity will focus on prevention through fitness and healthy eating strategies that are integrated into home, schools, and communities. These efforts will take into account the psychological, social, and emotional issues that play a role in obesity — and their effects on kids' development.

For Kids:
Kids' Nutrition & Fitness Center
What Being Overweight Means

For Teens:
When Being Overweight Is a Health Problem
About Overweight and Obesity
5 Ways to Reach a Healthy Weight

For Parents:
Overweight and Obesity
Nutrition & Fitness Center
News - The Role Relationships Play in Obesity
News - New OTC Diet Pill Not for Kids
News - The Emotional Toll of Obesity
News - Lack of Sleep Tied to Obesity


Covering Kids' Health Needs

Until recently the debate over what to do about uninsured Americans had largely focused on adults, particularly the elderly. Now the focus has shifted to helping parents find affordable insurance for kids.

As the year ended, politicians continued to grapple with how to cover millions of uninsured kids, especially those of the working poor who don't qualify for Medicaid or can't afford private insurance. But legislation that would renew federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) stalled. As lawmakers debated how much to spend on the program, they confronted new questions about issues like covering pregnant women, and whether the benefits should include things like dental and mental health care services.

What to Watch:

As the number of uninsured kids grows and the debate about SCHIP continues, the question of how to ensure that all kids in the United States get the health care they need is likely to be a prominent issue in the presidential race. The well-being of children and families is a perennial issue for those in political life — but will it finally be solved? Or after elections, will it be forgotten once again?

For Parents:
Finding Your Way in the Health Care System
Financial Management During Crisis


Battling the Superbug

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) made frequent headlines as the so-called "superbug" and put the spotlight on the growing threat posed by drug-resistant bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has for years called antibiotic resistance one of the world's most pressing public health problems. Overuse of antibiotics is a major reason that bacteria have evolved and developed resistance to drugs. The virulent strain of bacteria that resists many antibiotics has long been a serious issue in hospital settings, which is still where the vast majority of cases appear. But when MRSA started showing up more frequently in the general community it became front-page news. The infections typically spread by contact with infected skin or objects and often occur among people prone to scrapes and cuts, as well as those in crowded living conditions and people with poor hygiene. Kids and athletes across the country were given crash courses on lowering their risk of contracting MRSA or spreading it.

What to Watch:

The push to promote better hand washing habits and other basic hygiene practices will continue as doctors, public health officials, and parents continue to stress how effective they are at preventing staph infections. What's not clear is whether the new precautions will stick once the headlines about a "superbug" fade. And the bigger question is, will people begin showing more care in the use of antibiotics — parents by not pressuring pediatricians to prescribe them and doctors by resisting when they do? And if they don't, will even more persistent virulent bacteria appear on the horizon?

For Kids:
Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?
What Are Germs?

For Teens:
Should I Worry About MRSA?
Hand Washing

For Parents:
News - Making Sense of MRSA
Why Is Hand Washing So Important?
Making Sense of Medical News


Rethinking a Pill for Every Ill

New questions about the safety and effectiveness of cough and cold medicines marketed to kids put the spotlight on the fact that many of the medications marketed for kids have not been tested in children.

In October, drug-makers pulled 14 popular cough and cold medicines labeled for babies and toddlers from the market to keep parents from misusing and accidentally overdosing their children on these over-the-counter (OTC) drugs found in many households. One week later, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel said children under 6 years old also should not use cough and cold medicines such as decongestants and antihistamines because their effectiveness has not been studied in kids and the risks outweigh their benefits. The withdrawal of widely used children's medicines challenged parents' assumptions that the remedies on store shelves that promise to soothe sick kids are actually safe and effective for them.

What to Watch:

Some pediatricians see a bright side to the development: With new questions about OTC drugs for kids, parents might be a little more reluctant to reach for a pill for every ill, and a little more willing to handle everyday sicknesses with remedies that are always within reach (or not sold in stores) — patience, rest, and a little tender care. And the large scale of this recall could prompt a louder call for more testing of drugs in kids before they're marketed for them.

For Kids:
What to Do If You Get the Flu
Who Needs a Flu Shot?

For Teens:
What to Do If You Get the Flu
Who Needs a Flu Shot?

For Parents:
Tips for Treating the Flu
News - OTC Infant Cough and Cold Meds Pulled By Makers
Too Late for a Flu Shot?
News - Health Officials Urge Flu Shots for All Kids Who Need Them

Reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: December 2007

Other Related KidsHealth Articles:
10 Kids' Health Issues to Watch in 2006
Hundreds of health issues affecting children compete for our attention each year. KidsHealth has featured 10 issues in children's health that touch the lives of almost everyone and that KidsHealth believes are worth watching in 2006.
10 Kids' Health Issues to Watch in 2007
Hundreds of health issues affecting children steal the spotlight each year. KidsHealth has sifted through scores of health issues impacting children and families and chosen 10 important trends to watch in 2007.
Related Resources:
American Academy of Family Physicians
This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
American Medical Association (AMA)
The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association 515 N. State St. Chicago, IL 60610 (312) 464-5000
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO
This site is a joint venture created by several national medical societies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association. Medem includes a medical library and a physician finder.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.