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Recently I found myself in an uncomfortable yet familiar situation, having to discuss a child’s weight with the parents and the child.
As a medical student, we were taught that your diagnosis begins as soon as the patient walks into the room, the way they walk, their body language, the relationship with the people who come in with them.
I have begun noticing children, between the ages of 10-17, coming to my office for their annual school physical, extremely overweight. I know, I know child obesity has been in the news quite often recently, and I know that we see obesity all around us and it is a growing problem in the United States.
Knowing this and seeing it in action are two very different realities.
Personally, I have struggled with my weight my entire life: I was a chubby kid, a chubby teenager and now I consider myself “Full Figured”.
I am not talking about the child who is 20 lbs overweight. I am talking about a seventeen year old boy who is 5’9″ and weighs 247 lbs, or the 12 year old who is 5’9″ and weighs 200 lbs, or the nine year old who gained 40 lbs in one year.
In these cases, these children fall under the OBESE category and are way above the 99th their age group for weight vs. height. Nine, twelve, seventeen, what will happen when they hit 25, 35, 55?
Where is the end to this weight gain and what is my personal responsibility as a doctor helping these children and their families?
Combining the science of medicine with the art of medicine is not always easy. Compassion, empathy, understanding and good communication are all essential elements in this process. Having this conversation is difficult for all parties. It can be hard for the parents who may feel that they are being criticized, for the child who may feel bad about his weight, and for the practitioner who doesn’t want to sound judgmental or critical.
For any change to happen the family needs to be involved and they need to care enough to want to change the situation.
In schools there is a lot of focus on Sex Ed and it is spoken about often, because everyone realizes that there is power in knowledge and the more the children know the more they can make smarter choices.
Let us teach the next generation about nutrition, health, preventative medicine, weight and all that so when the time comes the young person can make the right decision.
We can all contribute to the change to make our society healthier.