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November 5, 2008 > Focus on Children's Health

Focus on Children's Health

Pediatrician Points to Diet, Well-Child Visits as Key Issues

When it comes to children's health, there are so many different issues to focus on that sometimes it's good to get back to the basics.

During Children's Health Month, Dr. Marjorie Alpert, a Washington Medical Staff pediatrician with South East Bay Pediatric Medical Group, shares some tips on two major facets to children's health: diet and well-child visits.

"We are seeing an increase in type 2 diabetes in kids because of weight and obesity issues in my practice," Dr. Alpert points out. "I'm screening more often for diabetes simply because I'm seeing more kids that are at risk because of their weight. Some people may not realize it, but the importance of diet starts at a really early age - in infancy."

Parents, she says, are key members in the fight against obesity. By teaching children good dietary habits early on, there's a better chance that future generations will struggle less with many of the chronic health problems associated with obesity.

Some of the tips Dr. Alpert passes along to parents of patients in her practice include things that seem like common sense but many times are not put into practice.

"Feed your child when he or she is hungry and don't when they're not hungry," she says. "To a parent, that might seem like a small amount of food, but you have to remember that your children are also smaller than you. There are also social lessons that children learn during mealtimes when they're at the table with their parents, and that's important as well."

Dr. Alpert recently had her first patient with type 2 diabetes. Now that the patient is being monitored and treated, she is losing weight and no longer requires insulin, which Alpert says leads to a very good point.

"A lot of chronic health issues are reversible early on," she says. "That's why it's important that we see children early and often for regular well-child visits. There are so many issues we have to address during a well visit, which means we have to prioritize, but diet remains a really important topic."

With two young children of her own, Dr. Alpert says she understands the struggles parents go through when trying to make sure their children are eating properly.

"There are times when I wonder 'How come she eats like a bird?'" Dr. Alpert says of her three-year-old daughter. "As parents, it's our job to offer our children a variety of healthy foods. But our job is not to dictate when our child is hungry. As kids grow up, if they don't know their own bodies and what it feels like to be hungry before they eat, then they don't know when to stop eating."

Providing healthy food choices and teaching kids to eat when they're hungry - not when you, the parent, thinks they should eat - can go a long way to healthier eating habits that last into adulthood.

In addition to diet, another basic building block of children's health, according to Dr. Alpert, includes the vaccinations children receive during their wellness checkups, as well as the annual flu vaccine.

"The flu season is coming up quickly," she points out. "What many people don't realize is that the flu still kills about 36,000 people each year. If parents were aware of how serious an issue the flu can be, especially for young children, I believe they would be more likely to get their child vaccinated annually."

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years should receive a flu shot each year.

Unlike "garden variety cold viruses," the influenza virus infection can lead to serious complications. On average, as many as 200,000 people end up in the emergency room due to influenza virus related infections.

There are two types of flu vaccines, one given by injection that contains an inactive dead form of the virus and the other administered via a nasal spray, which contains a live but weakened form of the virus. Dr. Alpert points out that neither form of the vaccine can cause illness. Notably, the vaccine, if given early enough, can reduce the chances of developing the flu by as much as 70 percent to 90 percent.

Dr. Alpert's practice began taking appointment for flu shots in mid-September. Flu season generally begins between October and November and runs through February or March.

Other vaccinations given during wellness checks are also very important to preventing diseases, such as measles, mumps and rubella. For parents that have questions about vaccinations, Dr. Alpert points them in the direction of reputable information sources.

"With all the information out there on the Internet, it's hard to know what to believe," she says. "I point parents to the CDC Web site, as well as www.vaccinateyourbaby.org and the AAP's Web site."

Overall, for questions about any children's health issues, it's important for parents to maintain an open line of communication with their child's pediatrician and to seek valid information from trustworthy sources before making decisions relating to his or her welfare.

To search for a pediatrician close to you, visit www.whhs.com and click on "Find a Physician."

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