Knoxville (WVLT) - Children are the latest victims of the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Along with rising rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, they are now experiencing what was previously considered an adult health problem, chronic heartburn.
We're covering East Tennessee health, with more on the surge in the number of children taking prescription drugs for heartburn.
The number of children taking prescription drugs for heartburn has jumped 56 percent in recent years.
Researchers say obesity of overuse might be contributing to the surprise increase.
But the increase comes as no surprise to pharmacists at Long's Drug Store.
Pharmacist Hank Peck says, "Since they became available they were so effective, and were very popular as a prescription item, and now they're just as popular over the counter."
More than two million U.S. children 18 and younger used these drugs to treat heartburn and other digestive problems last year.
Acid-reducing drugs called proton pump inhibitors are the most common medicines prescribed for gastrointestinal problems.
Pharmacist Peck says they're used for acid reflux associated with heartburn.
"A lot of the new products are what they call H2 antagonists, and they, through a series of events block the release of histamine that causes acid release."
Some of these prescription medications, including Prevacid, have been approved for use in children.
Heartburn and acid reflux aren't uncommon in children, but many outgrow it and drug treatment often isn't needed, so the increase raises concerns about whether these drugs are sometimes being used unnecessarily.
Peck says, "And these types of products can interfere with some things, because you need acid production for breaking down certain medications and different things, and so it's important that you take them at the right time and under the doctor's supervision, especially a child."
Pharmacists say acid reflux drugs are generally safe, but there is some evidence linking long-term use with an increased risk of infection.
While some children do require treatment with prescription drugs, many get better with no treatment or lifestyle changes, such as smaller, more frequent meals or cutting down on fatty foods.