Young Kids, Old Bodies

Runaway obesity is turning a generation of children into biological adults, aging them before their time

Katherine Wolkoff for TIME

Glance through Kimberly Rhodes' medical records and the diagnoses read like a complete spreadsheet of 21st century American health problems. She's gained 19 lb. (8.6 kg) in the past three years and developed insulin resistance, so she is now considered prediabetic. Her liver is embedded with layers of fat that have scarred the healthy tissue around it and caused cirrhosis. The enzymes it produces, which serve as a marker for how well it is functioning, have plummeted 84%. So far, her blood pressure hovers just within normal range, but she's borderline hypertensive. These measures are fairly typical for the roughly two-thirds of adult Americans who are overweight or obese.

But Kimberly is 13 years old, and if she is unusual, it's only because of the severity of her various conditions, not that she suffers from them. This is the American Nightmare — that for the first time ever, a generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy at birth than their parents. In some ways, the premature sickening of a demographic that should be any society's healthiest is even worse than it seems. These kids aren't simply developing the diseases of adults; they are, in many ways, physically becoming adults.

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