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Kids Swallow More Pills as Big Waistlines Become Growing Pain

More American children are taking pills for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol than ever before, reflecting a rise in chronic diseases related to obesity, a study found.

Use of drugs for type-2 diabetes, the form of the disease commonly seen in overweight adults, doubled in children ages 5 to 19 and cholesterol-lowering medications rose by 15 percent between 2002 and 2005, according to the report published today by the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A surge in obesity among children puts them at risk for diabetes, hypertension and other conditions, said researchers from Express Scripts Inc., the Pediatric Research Institute at St. Louis University and the Kansas Health Institute in Topeka who worked on the study. The report supports earlier data published in June by Harvard University researchers that found a fourfold increase in childhood obesity over three decades.

“Ten or 15 years ago we weren’t even discussing these conditions, which were mainly in adults,” said Emily Cox, a senior director of research at St. Louis-based Express Scripts, which provided data for the research. “Now we are seeing a growing number of children being treated for chronic conditions that they are going to take into adulthood.”

The study tracked the prescription drug records collected by Express Scripts, which manages pharmacy benefits, for about 3 million children a year. Use of drugs for asthma, also linked to obesity, rose 47 percent and high blood pressure medicines rose 2 percent, the report said.

Girls Highest

Drug use was especially high among girls, who were more than twice as likely to be taking a diabetes medication as boys, even though girls aren’t more likely to have the disease, the researchers said. Cox suggested this may be because girls visit the doctor twice as much as boys.

There was also a 40 percent rise in drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with the increase for girls, at 63 percent, rising faster than for boys, at 33 percent.

The researchers also saw a boost of ADHD drug use in 15 to 19 year olds, an age group for which use typically declines as teenagers are taken off the medications. That may be a sign that ADHD drugs are being used more as stimulants to help teens keep up with schoolwork or for recreational use, Cox said.

“There is a sense that they are being used at that age for productivity at school,” said Cox.

Doctors may be also prescribing more medicines to children after a 1997 law encouraged drugmakers to study the effects of their medicines in adolescents, the researchers said.

That law gave companies a six-month extension on their patent if they studied a product in children. Before the law, few companies did research in kids because the market potential was considered small.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shannon Pettypiece in New York at

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