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Kids and Health Care: Kids, Health & Diet Introduction

Perhaps the biggest influence that every parent or guardian has on his or her children's health is what -- and how -- the kids eat. Teaching them to eat wisely may not have the immediate affect that finding and paying for a good doctor has; but good dietary habits will affect their lives for a long time.

A March 2004 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that poor diet and physical inactivity caused 400,000 deaths, or 16.6 percent of the total -- up from 300,000, or 14 percent of deaths, in 1990.

More than 30 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the CDC. That's about 59 million people. If Americans continue to get fatter at current rates, by 2020 about one in five health care dollars spent on people aged 50 to 69 could be due to obesity -- 50 percent more than now -- according to a separate study by the Rand Corporation.

Pediatricians say too much weight is now the most common medical condition of childhood. The problem doubled between the early 1980s and early 2000s; by 2003, about 15 percent of American kids were considered overweight or obese. (As late as the early 1990s, the rate of high blood pressure among children was estimated at about 1 percent.)

In this chapter, we'll consider the diet issues that parents and children face -- and what you can do to make sure your kids eat healthily.

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