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PRESS RELEASE: 9/4/13 Childhood obesity demands more doctor-parent discussion

Bioethics Leader Calls for More Doctor-Parent Discussion of Childhood Obesity

Surveys show that few pediatricians and other doctors who treat overweight children discuss weight with their parents. But in avoiding the topic, doctors are missing an opportunity to help control one of the top threats to children’s health, writes Daniel Callahan, co-founder and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center, in a commentary in JAMA Pediatrics.

Callahan acknowledges many reasons that it is difficult for doctors to raise the issue with parents. The topic is a delicate one, he writes, “particularly if the parents are obese and either unaware of it or oversensitive to even talking about it” and if the child has been brought to the physician for other reasons. To raise the issue can seem gratuitous and uncalled for, and, too often, the physician has neither time nor skills to take on serious counseling.

As a starting point for overcoming resistance to discussing obesity, Callahan recommends that physicians consider the potential lifelong consequences if the problem is left untreated. Some 20 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are categorized as obese. They have heightened risk of diabetes and other illnesses. And if they remain obese into adulthood, the success rate of losing weight and keeping it off is only about 10 percent.

Rejecting any stigmatization of obese children, Callahan writes, “I see no reason . . . not to apply social pressure on parents to do something about their obese children.” He advises doctors to talk with them “directly and with feeling but also delicately with some finesse, much like a diplomat dealing with a recalcitrant political regime up to no good but also sometimes prickly to talk with. That’s not always going to be an easy mission, but then obesity is not an easy opponent.”

Contact: Susan Gilbert, public affairs and communications manager
The Hastings Center
845-424-4040 x244
gilberts@thehastingscenter.org