Friday, December 7, 2012

The Next Generation
of Heart Attacks

We now live in a country where adolescents are more depressed, anxious, and weigh more than ever.

Following the recent 2012 presidential election, most people are better able to understand why insurance costs and health care is a growing problem. 

If politicians, parents, and working professionals are worried about the rising health care costs, where do the adolescents fit into this?

Children typically do not pay for their own insurance, health care related costs or even have a faint clue as to what this means, but what is their involvement in the rising health care concern? 

For instance, 25% percent of adolescents develop anxiety disorders (Merikangas, 2010), obesity prevalence rates have almost tripled since 1980 (Ogden, Carroll, Kit & Flagel, 2012), approximately 1/3 of adolescents are overweight or obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit & Flagel, 2012) and almost 1 out of 10 children are diagnosed with depression (Luby, 2009). 

I believe the REAL question to ask here is...
Do children in this country even stand a chance to develop into confident, motivated, and happy adults? 


Without a major shift of focus on adolescent preventative health care in response to the rising rates of children diagnosed with anxiety/depression disorders and obesity, we have a very costly problem when treating these adolescents in adulthood with fully developed chronic lifestyle diseases and disorders.

In order to minimize the number of adolescents that develop more severe disorders into adulthood and those that cultivate lifestyle diseases (Type II diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and hyper-lipidemia), the mental and physical health of adolescents NEEDS to become our health care focus and predominant priority.

Childhood and adolescence are vulnerable phases in life that places the demographic at substantial risk for developing the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders (Beesdo, Knappe, & Pine, 2009). 

Many people are willing to acknowledge that children's and adolescent's minds are very impressionable and capable of retaining vast amounts of information, including events and interactions that could lead to anxiety. Although Doctors claim there is no one factor that leads to an adolescent developing an anxiety disorder, they do predict that environmental factors play a large role (Beesdo, Knappe, & Pine, 2009).

Children spend much of their time in school (with teachers, at home (with parents), and with friends. This may give light to how those environments contribute to the rising prevalence of childhood anxiety and depression. 

Children are born with the ability to sense fear, but what causes the development of a pathological problem? With 25% of adolescents developing anxiety disorders in the United States and a prevalence rate of 18% of adults with anxiety disorders, there are a massive number of individuals trying to treat this growing problem (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jim, & Walters, 2005). 
            While the numbers of anxiety disorders are increasing, so do the prescriptions for SSRI's and the utilization of the health care system. This all comes at a huge cost. From 1991-2005 we witnessed an increase in anti-depressant prescriptions from 6.82 million to 32.72 million (Chen et al., 2008). With this wave of newly diagnosed individuals, came along an increased expenditure on the anti-depressant medications from $159 million in 1991 to $2.26 billion in 2004 (Chen et al. 2008). 

Imagine a world where we treat children for their underlying problem rather than simply and solely placing them on medication. Proven to have significant benefits, cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice for anxiety and depression in adolescents (Compton et al., 2004). An increased adherence to psychotherapy for adolescence could have a drastic impact on the outcome and future development of the individual's anxiety disorder into adulthood. 

The leading cause of death in America is heart disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (2011), an estimated cost of treating heart disease is a staggering $444 billion and is responsible for $1 of every $6 spent in the health care system.

"The Last Heart Attack" with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

A major risk factor for developing heart disease is obesity, which is tightly correlated to an individual's diet and physical activity level (diet and physical activity just so happen to be risk factors as well). Obesity rates in adolescents have tripled since 1980, mainly due to poor diet and lack of physical activity (Ogden et al. 2012). 

If we are exposing adolescents to multiple risk factors for heart disease, why are we surprised to see them develop the illness in adulthood? 

Our children are the next generation of heart attacks, 
unless parenting, school systems, and the media change their messages to youth. The priority for future health care needs to have a focus on adolescent mental health and physical well-being. 

If some of the chronic illness' that cost our country billions of dollars are treated before they occur and in some cases prevented, the bill for treating heart disease and anti-depression medication prescriptions will be drastically reduced.

 Our shift in mindset must begin with creating prevention plans rather than treating symptoms while fully supporting adolescents with the counseling, mentoring, and positive modeling necessary to develop a strong self-image, motivation, and coping skills to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression disorders. 


*Reference list supplied upon request

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