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We need more childhood obesity support, urge doctors

In-depth interviews conducted by university experts found there is a lack of training opportunities for medical staff and resources to support families.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the research found that doctors, who are on the front line of tackling childhood obesity, are struggling as a result of no training opportunities and capacity problems.

Woman showing apple and bitten doughnut

One healthcare staff member, who took part in the study, said: ‘I had one mum and her child was overweight, but she was a young parent and she actually didn’t know how to cook the dinners and, yeah…we spent a lot of time with her giving her worksheets, how to cook, make potato and beans rather than going to the fish and chip shop.’

However, despite doctors trying to offer support, professionals frequently talked about their frustrations with a lack of time and training to support families within their interviews. In addition, other key themes that were discussed include a lack of access to routinely collected data on children’s weight and limited availability for specialist services.

According to the most recent figures published regarding child obesity rates in England, almost one in four children aged 10 and 11 in this country are classed as obese and almost a quarter of English children are obese at the end of primary school. These statistics show this study couldn’t have come at a better time.

Miranda Pallan, Professor of Child and Adolescent Public Health in the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham and senior author of the paper said: ‘This study brings a fresh awareness about the pressures that healthcare professionals face, including the limitations that they face in trying to provide preventative care for young people. Through the series of interviews with doctors, primary care nurses and school nurses, we have been able to see some clear barriers that prevent effective advice and support for families to tackle the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

‘While we should not expect doctors to be spending lots of time teaching families how to cook healthy, balanced meals, the study does highlight that healthcare professionals need more support and dedicated time to enable them to give practical advice and in some cases refer to more specialist services.’

As part of their calls to receive better training to tackle childhood obesity problems, doctors have said that they need to be educated on what language to use when speaking with children, so they don’t damage their trust.

Various healthcare professionals who took part in this new study said they were aware of cultural considerations when bringing up weight.

Speaking of trust, healthcare professionals also raised the issue of the use of BMI centiles for assessing weight problems in children. Some doctors and nurses said that BMI is altogether not a good measure for young people and others noted that they are less familiar with BMI centiles.

One participant said: ‘We used to use the [height and weight] centile charts and actually the BMI will put a lot more children in an overweight category than the centile charts will.’

Image: Andres Ayrton

More on this topic:

NHS data has found childhood obesity in England is falling

NHS obesity drug: GPs to offer controversial weight loss jab

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