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Almost half of all children and adolescents who take medicines are using them improperly, a new study has found.

According to the study, completed by the National Council on Patient Information and Education, the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs by young people has become an "overlooked" problem.

The study found that every two weeks approximately 13 million children take medicines prescribed or recommended by a doctor, and an additional 27 million take vitamin/mineral supplements or over-the-counter drugs. But 46 percent of these children, the researchers estimate, do not take these drugs properly.

Children commonly stop taking a medicine too soon, do not take enough of the medicine, refuse to take it, or use too much of it, the report found.

"When children use medicines improperly, lives are lost, treatable chronic diseases remain uncontrolled, and acute illnesses needlessly continue or recur," the report concludes.

Much of the problem, the report states, can be traced to poor communication between health professionals and parents and children.

The study also found that parents do not adequately monitor their children's medicine taking and frequently misuse medicine themselves. In addition, schools infrequently discuss proper medicine use in health-education classes, the study notes.

The report recommends that parents more thoroughly question doctors and other health professionals about the drugs that have been prescribed for their children, and the proper doses.

It also calls on school nurses and teachers to work more closely with parents and physicians to monitor the possible effects of these drugs, including those that alter behavior, on children.

As a way of encouraging more children to become physically fit, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sport has created a new reward for those who meet basic fitness goals.

Students between the ages of 6 and 17 can win the new National Physical Fitness Award if they score at or above the 50th percentile on a battery of five physical activities, including a one-mile run.

Children who score at or above the 85th percentile on the same group of activities will still be eligible for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, which was established in 1966.

The President's council recommends fitness testing twice a year and suggests that additional health tests, such as posture- and blood-pressure checks, be used to supplement the program.

For more information about the program, write the pcpfs, 450 Fifth St., N.W., Suite 7103, Washington, D.C. 20001.--ef

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