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NPR: How Doctors Can Stop Stigmatizing — And Start Helping — Kids With Obesity

By Mara Gordon

Kids with obesity face a host of health problems related to their weight, like high blood pressure, diabetes and joint problems.

Research points to another way heavier children and teens are at risk: their own doctors' bias. This prejudice has real health consequences for kids, making families less likely to show up for appointments or get recommended vaccines.

I am a family physician at a community health center in Washington, D.C., and many of my young patients have obesity. It's no surprise. Obesity is the most common chronic disease that affects children and teens in the U.S. One-third of American kids are overweight or obese.

But I often feel totally unprepared to talk about it in a way that puts kids at ease. We have to cram in a physical exam, shots and parent questions into a 15-minute appointment, and a discussion about a healthy lifestyle sometimes feels like an afterthought.

In a major 2012 study of over 2,200 physicians, for example, researchers found that most doctors harbor significant prejudice against patients with obesity. When researchers surveyed almost 2,500 people about weight discrimination, women reported that doctors were the most common source of stigma about their weight.

We physicians are supposed to help our patients stay healthy, but instead we're making them feel judged.

"What the evidence shows is that you need frequent, intensive contact with multidisciplinary teams," says Brooke Sweeney, a pediatrician and the medical director of Weight Management Services at Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Mo., a program that takes a similar approach to IDEAL. "Making ... changes is extremely difficult. You need lots of support to actually do this," she says.

Sweeney points to a 2010 review article looking at kids' weight management programs. The more frequently families met with clinicians and the more comprehensive the approach — that is, interventions that targeted diet, exercise, behavior and family dynamics all at once — the more helpful the programs seemed to be.

"If you intervene pretty early, we have a really good chance of being successful," Sweeney says.


Read the full story via NPR 

Learn more about Weight Management Services at Children's Mercy