Sending your child to kindergarten is a rite of passage. A reason to celebrate. But, it’s also a time when many parents stop taking their child for a yearly wellness checkup.
“We see a decline in annual checkups once a child hits adolescence or ages 6 to 10. National data suggests more than 50 percent of kids ages 10-14 don’t get regular screenings,” said Dr. David Karas, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Wadsworth. “It’s not only a troubling statistic, but it means real health issues aren’t being detected early so opportunities for treatment are being missed, leading to long-term health issues.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children visit their pediatrician for wellness checkups frequently from newborn through age 2 and then once a year between the ages of 3 and 21.
“Annual checkups are more than height, weight and vaccinations,” said Dr. Karas. “We’re also looking at developmental, emotional and behavioral changes or trends, and discussing concerns with parents and kids.”
Well visits help identify behavioral, emotional and other concerns
Once your child is in grade school, yearly checkups help assess behavioral issues, academic delays and other developmental concerns. They also give pediatricians time to talk to their patients about the importance of a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle.
“With one third of U.S. kids now considered overweight or obese, the best way to improve the statistic is to start talking to parents and kids early,” said Dr. Karas. “We also know the longer a child is obese the more difficult it is to overcome it.”
Of course overall health and assessing risk factors are vital components of a checkup, so doctors and nurse practitioners screen for lead, cholesterol and diabetes if risk factors are present.
“Children with obesity are at higher risk of diabetes so the earlier we can identify changes in health the better chance we have of preventing it,” said Dr. Karas.
For kids ages 11-21, yearly checkups assess risk factors for diabetes, sexual activity and high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, as well as ensure vaccinations are up-to-date including meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), HPV and tetanus.
“We talk to patients and parents together and then alone to give them each a chance to ask questions that may be embarrassing or difficult in the company of others,” Dr. Karas said. “We try to create an environment where patients feel safe to talk to another trusted adult about concerns or struggles they may be experiencing.”
As children get older, it’s also important to screen them for depression.
“About 20 percent of teens have signs of depression at some point, so by screening them we have a chance to talk through strategies of how to overcome the emotion and help them recognize emotional changes on their own,” Dr. Karas said. “Regardless of age, though, a yearly checkup is a great opportunity for patients, families and physicians to get on the same page, build a relationship and make sure a child is on a healthy track.”
Wellness checkups are typically fully covered by insurance and take less than an hour. Direct scheduling for wellness checkups is now available for Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics patients via MyChart.