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Few Physicians Discuss Obesity With Families in Outpatient Setting, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Researcher Finds

Nationwide, doctors offer obesity-related counseling in fewer than one in five outpatient visits

Physicians have been reluctant to offer obesity-related counseling to families of overweight children, but rates are improving as awareness of the obesity epidemic increases, according to a Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh researcher.

In 1995, physicians treating children in the outpatient setting offered obesity-related counseling (diet/nutrition, exercise or weight management counseling) only 4 percent of the time. That rate rose to 15 percent in 2002, according to research led by Goutham Rao, MD, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children's.

"Addressing the issue of obesity with a family can be difficult. Previous research has shown that pediatricians and family physicians are not comfortable addressing the issue and, many times, children and their parents are frustrated, or even offended when it is addressed," Dr. Rao said. "But obesity is a nationwide epidemic and there is no easy solution. There needs to be counseling from the physician about a family-based approach to weight loss through proper nutrition and exercise."

Dr. Rao's study is published in the November-December issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics. The study examined nationwide data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey from 1993 - 2002.

The study also found that there is a direct correlation between the increase in obesity-related counseling by physicians and awareness of the obesity epidemic (as measured by an increase in the number of obesity-related studies published in scientific journals) among physicians. The number of pediatric obesity-related articles published rose from 139 in 1994 to 515 in 2002. This is an indication that physicians are gradually coming to understand the importance of addressing the childhood obesity epidemic in the clinical setting, according to Dr. Rao.

"As we've learned more about the consequences of the childhood obesity epidemic - such as a drastic rise in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure - physicians have increasingly come to understand that it is vital to offer this counseling," Dr. Rao said. "We are now seeing very young children with adult-related diseases, and it is a direct result of obesity."

The rate of childhood obesity in the United States has doubled over the last two decades. Today, 16 percent of children ages 6 - 19 have a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex (considered overweight by federal government standards).

Learn more about Children's Weight Management and Wellness Center

Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-7919 or 412-692-5016,
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5502 or 412-692-5016,

Last Update
April 11, 2014
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Last Update
April 11, 2014