A recent report by federal health officials revealed that 84 percent of children in the United States are in excellent or very good health. And one of the staples of growing up — the regularly scheduled doctor’s exam – contributes strongly to kids’ health and well-being.How do moms and dads know that their kids are being checked for the right things, at the right time? In addition to relying on the doctor’s expertise and guidance, parents can arm themselves with basic information to make sure their kids are being monitored appropriately and comprehensively during their recommended health exams.
The American Association of Pediatrics offers guidelines for age-appropriate care for children and adolescents through its “Bright Futures” educational initiative (brightfutures.aap.org). Following is a sampling of some key areas for parents to be aware of during visits to the pediatrician.
• Infancy (0 to 9 months): The first year of life is a busy time, with seven recommended assessments: At birth, 1 week, and 1, 2, 4, 6, and 9 months of age. All children are screened for metabolic and blood problems, development, hearing and oral health. If there are parental concerns, babies may need additional vision screening by a specialist. If lead or tuberculosis exposures are suspected, those children will be tested.
• Early childhood (1 to 4 years): Checkups are recommended every three months from 12 to 18 months of age; every 6 months from age 2 to 3; and annually starting at age 3. Screenings during this timeframe include anemia (12 months); lead exposure (1 and 2 years); autism (18 months and 2 years); and vision and hearing (4 years). Blood pressure becomes a part of the annual physical at age 3. With elevated risk factors, screening for dyslipidemia (abnormal blood fats) may also begin at age 2 or 4.
• Middle childhood (5 to 10 years): As school and learning move to the forefront, kids’ medical exams will include regular vision and hearing screens at ages 5, 6, 8 and 10. Other risk-associated screenings will continue, including oral health, TB, lead and dyslipidemia.
• Adolescence to Young Adulthood (11-21 years): Puberty marks a new era of health concerns. Parents can expect their kids to want some independence and to expect private time with the pediatrician. Honesty is especially important during these years, as annual checkups begin to include new screens for reproductive and sexual health issues, alcohol and drug use.
While physical and developmental milestones change throughout childhood, at least one thing should remain consistent: Truthfulness is critical in all childhood exams. Physicians need accurate information (first from parents, and later from children themselves) to assess risks and determine possible medical interventions.
Finally, parents are the best and strongest advocates for their kids’ health. While many questions and concerns are answered during the natural course of an exam, those that remain should always be addressed at the end of the appointment. Doctors and parents should work as a team to ensure a child receives individualized, age-appropriate care.