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Discussing Weight Issues in Children

POSTED BY: Sara Channing

The HBO documentary Weight of the Nation is garnering national attention since it focuses on the growing obesity epidemic in America. One part of the problem is the lack of communication between parents and pediatricians.

A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine indicated that a surprising number of physicians do not communicate with parents about children’s weight issues. In fact, only 22 percent of parents with children whose Body Mass Index (BMI) was in the 85th percentile of higher recalled being told by a doctor that their child was overweight, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Dr. Angela Fals, medical director of Florida Hospital for Children’s weight management program, offers some insights on why this communication failure could mean big problems for kids now and later in life.

How important is communication about weight issues with parents?
It is really surprising that more physicians are not having this conversation with their patients. Weight can be a delicate subject for the physician, parents and the child so a physician needs to be able to gauge individual family’s level of comfort with the issue before proceeding. It is not an easy conversation to have but it is their responsibility to communicate with the family about weight issues. It all starts with just having a conversation. That conversation could serve as a big wake-up call to families and help them get going with the treatment they need. Children who are overweight are in danger of suffering from a variety of health issues. As a parent, the best thing you can do is ask. Make sure you know your child’s BMI. Just because it is slightly on the high side doesn’t mean your child is overweight but you need to have that conversation with your physician.  

Can communication motivate parents to take action?
I believe that having an honest conversation is the first step to getting parents thinking about their child’s weight. There is a lot of denial and social stigmas associated with being overweight, and it can be a big hurdle to overcome. Hopefully, parents have a level of trust with their child’s physician and realize that the physician brings a level of knowledge to the table. Physicians only have the child’s best interest in mind.

If a parent is told that their child is overweight, what tools exists for parents?
There are a number of resources available to parents to help get their child healthier, including their physician. So ask your pediatrician what steps you can take. There are also a number of web sites that offer tools and suggestions including the Centers for Disease Control as well as ChooseMyPlate.gov that are credible sources for parents. There is also the Healthy 100 Kids program right here at Florida Hospital for Children. Our program provides families with a “weight-friendly approach” to help them through all stages of their journey. The program works with each family individually to move at their pace and provides assistance in weight management, exercise, nutrition and psychological counseling.  But the most important thing is take some sort of action. Children need guidance with weight issues. If these issues are not dealt with early, that child could suffer from a lifelong struggle with weight issues which could lead to heart disease stroke, diabetes and even cancer.