Chronic illness doubles in the young as living standards rise

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Record numbers of children and young adults are suffering from long-term illnesses and conditions, according to figures released yesterday.

Record numbers of children and young adults are suffering from long-term illnesses and conditions, according to figures released yesterday.

While better housing and labour-saving appliances have improved standards of living, rates of chronic illness have doubled in children and young adults. The figures were published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics as part of its annual Living in Britain survey, involving 20,000 people.

The study showed that among children and young adults, asthma and other allergies made up the bulk of the problems. Other conditions included breathing problems other than asthma, digestive disorders, mental illness and heart disease.

One in six children under five now suffer from a long-standing illness, compared with 4 per cent in 1972. Chronic conditions have also more than doubled among five to 15-year-olds, from 8 per cent 30 years ago to one in five in 2002. A quarter of people aged 16 to 44 now suffer from a long-term illness. Experts said that the majority were suffering from allergies such as asthma.

The number of adults with the condition has increased sixfold in the past 25 years and has tripled among children, amounting to 5.1 million sufferers. A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign said: "We don't know the reasons for this increase, although we do know that genetics play a part.

"Environmental pollution may also be a factor, as well as the 'sealed box' syndrome where children are growing up in centrally-heated houses and are not getting fresh air or being exposed to infection to help them build up immunity to disease."

These changes are also highlighted in the survey. In 1972, only half of households had access to a car or van; now three quarters have at least one vehicle. Only one in three households had central heating 30 years ago, compared with 93 per cent in 2002.

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