Though they sound the alarm about increasing rates of childhood obesity, many doctors don’t actually record weight problems in children’s medical charts, according to a study published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics. The study found that two-thirds of doctors seeing obese children at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh didn’t note when a child was overweight.
This doesn’t surprise David Geller, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and an advisor to Fit4Free, a nonprofit organization trying to prevent chronic health problems through community-based fitness and health-education programs. Dr. Geller says many pediatricians also fail to discuss weight information with parents.
“Basic height and weight information doesn’t get transmitted to the responsible individual as reliably as it should,” Geller notes, adding that this says a lot about the way in which we view being overweight or obese as a social concern rather than as a medical condition.
Geller maintains that a child’s physician should plot height and weight or calculate Body Mass Index (BMI) – based on kilograms of weight per height in square meters – at every checkup, and discuss weight-related issues with the child’s parents. “Parents need to know ‘where they stand’ so to speak,” he says.
In addition, all kids should also have regular blood-pressure checks beginning at age 3, according to the National High Blood Pressure Education Program’s Working Group on Children.
The older an obese child gets, the greater his or her risk of becoming an obese adult. “The toll it takes on one’s health is enormous,” Geller says. Physicians need to start identifying and treating obese children early, before additional health problems develop, he says. These include an earlier appearance of puberty; testosterone overproduction in girls; and type 2 diabetes with its risk of vision, kidney and heart problems. Obesity also takes a huge emotional toll on children, often causing depression and anxiety.
Geller’s goal is for obesity to be treated as the chronic illness that it is. “We as physicians should be lobbying for that,” he says.
Read our special report on The Obesity Epidemic.
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Christina Elston is a freelance health writer and editor and author of several books on children’s health.