It sounds like great news: 93.6 percent of children and teens had contact with a health care professional in the past year. But what happened during that appointment? Chances are it lasted 10 minutes, and the doc said: "Yup! Your kid has an ear infection. Here's a prescription," or administered a Tdap vaccine and sent you out the door. That's unfortunate, because there are several important screening tests that children or teens may need that can help them learn, laugh and thrive.
In-depth allergy testing: For young children with a skin allergy (10% to 20% have eczema/atopic dermatitis), it's common to acquire more allergies during their first five years. Docs call this the Allergic March (not the month; it can happen year-round), and it often starts with a skin allergy and then is followed by an anaphylactic food allergy and a respiratory allergy.
According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, when children have those three allergies they're three times more likely to develop a little-recognized allergy called eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a painful inflammation of the esophagus. It's not an anaphylactic food allergy (whew!), but it can cause painful swallowing, stomachache or even problems with food becoming lodged in the esophagus. Often, say the researchers who looked at data on more than 130,000 children, it goes undiagnosed well into a child's teens. An elimination diet may help ID the offending food. Treatment can include steroids to reduce esophageal inflammation.
If you have a child who struggles with multiple allergies and has symptoms related to swallowing, indigestion or stomachaches, ask your allergist to test for EoE.
Obesity screening: Children 6 and older should be screened for obesity so that they can start treatment, including nutritional and activity recommendations. This is vital, because childhood obesity affects 17 percent of U.S. children and teens, and is a gateway condition to everything from premature diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease to asthma, depression and orthopedic problems.
Now an alarming study published in Lancet Public Health has found that the incidence of six obesity-related cancers—colorectal, endometrial, pancreatic, gallbladder, kidney and multiple myeloma—has increased in young adults in the past 20 years as more children grow up obese. Millennials have about double the risk of those cancers compared with baby boomers at the same age.
Unfortunately, parents don't see their child's obesity: One survey found that 81% of parents of obese/overweight children thought they were a healthy weight.
Parents need to be open to asking the doctor: "Can you tell me if my child is overweight or obese?" "What can you prescribe that will help me help cure the disease?" Mom and Dad, it's almost always curable!
Mental health/depression screening: 11% of children age 12 to 17 report having had at least one major depressive episode in the past year! Among children as young as 8-15, 2% of boys and 4% of girls report they've had a major depressive episode. Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey, 7.4% of youth in grades nine through 12 reported that they had made at least one suicide attempt in the past 12 months.
That's led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to recommend that all children 12 and older be screened for depression, and those younger on a case by case basis.
Only 36% of children and 44% of adolescents with depression now receive treatment. That's because it can be hard to tell moodiness from more serious emotional problems. So ask your child's doc to evaluate his or her risk for depression and recommend a therapist if needed. One study found that the combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication produced a positive response in 71% of adolescents.
You want to give your children the best chance to negotiate the health challenges they may face growing up. Talk to your doctor about what will extend your umbrella of care.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit sharecare.com.
(c)2019 Michael Roizen, M.D.
and Mehmet Oz, M.D.