Parents of obese kids reluctant to seek help from GP

Thursday, 28 July 2011 2:17 PM

One in five 11-year-old children in the UK is currently defined as obese, but both parents and GPs are reluctant to broach the subject, a study has found.

As the country faces a potentially huge burden of increased obesity-associated deaths, new research by the University of Bristol has found many GPs remain reluctant to discuss the topic with parents or to refer overweight children to weight reduction services.

And, when parents are given an opportunity to discuss their child’s weight with their GP, fewer than one in six families did so and fewer than one in 11 of those identified as obese were referred for any weight-management service, according to the study’s author Dr Jonathan Banks from the University’s School of Social and Community Medicine.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) identifies primary care as a key site in the management of childhood obesity, but recent research has shown that primary care practitioners have reservations about managing this complex condition.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, looked at a sample of 285 families with children and adolescents between the ages of five and 16 years with an ‘obese’ BMI recorded in the last two years.

Parents were then sent a letter explaining that the practice records showed their child had a high BMI, and inviting them to consult their GP, who might be able to refer them to the Care of Childhood Obesity (COCO) clinic and study for specialist support.

The results show that under half of the parents sent letters consulted their GP (47 per cent). However, only 42 (14.7 per cent) had a record in the GP notes of their child’s weight following receipt of the invitation letter. Only 19 patients (6.7 per cent) received referral to the COCO clinic with a further six (2.1 per cent) referred to alternative weight management programmes.

Dr Banks said: “Previous research has found that parents of overweight children find it difficult to seek help from a health professional and that many do not recognise overweight or obesity in their children.

“The data from this study resonate with these findings. It might be expected that parents who were unsure about how to deal with their child’s weight would be prompted by the letter, but the very low take-up suggests resistance to addressing the issue.”

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