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PAs can develop screening protocols, share basic nutrition and exercise information, and provide a list of community resources for overweight patients.
As physicians know all too well, obesity is a major health issue, particularly when it starts in childhood. The statistics are startling when you consider that 17 percent of children and adolescents age 2 years old to 19 years old are considered obese, according to the CDC. Another fact physicians recognize is that obesity sets patients up for a lifetime of healthcare problems including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
As a certified PA working in emergency medicine, I sometimes see 13- and 14-year-old kids who weigh 200 pounds to300 pounds and are already in need of medication for high blood pressure and diabetes. That is a concern to healthcare professionals as habits formed in childhood are hard to reverse later in life.
Because I am passionate about health and fitness, I decided to bring awareness to this issue and am planning the Kids Wellness Expo in West Palm Beach, Oct. 9, collaborating with Healthcorps, a national charity.
This is a free health fair for the whole family that include classes in fitness, nutrition, stress relief, and medical screenings for blood pressure and diabetes. We are raising sponsorship funds and the money will be used to implement a model in local high schools that directly impacts students'' overall wellness.
My point is, PAs in your office can impact this epidemic on a local scale by leading change in your private practice. A certified PA can be charged with developing simple screening protocols, basic nutrition and exercise information, and a list of community resources. If you have a significant number of patients with this condition, the PA could hold group educational appointments and bring in outside speakers.
Certified PAs routinely take histories and perform physicals during which they can assess the child or adolescent's current or potential obesity and his predisposition to diabetes and hypertension, based on family history.
In addition, they are educated in communications skills, which allows them to approach and discuss what can often be a sensitive subject, not only to the young patient but to parents as well.
What can we do to address the issue and begin to change behaviors?
• Educate both the patient and parent. Certified PAs in primary care are often in a position to discuss why it is important to have a healthy BMI not only while young but throughout life. Patients and parents are often not aware of the basic nutrition and exercise facts that we as medical professionals take for granted.
• Inspire the patient. Children need to see the value of changing eating and exercise patterns. For example, do they want to feel better by reducing or eliminating knee pain? Do they want to be faster in gym class or on the track? Do they want to play a sport that is leaving them behind? Are they self-conscious about their weight and want to look better? PAs are skilled at asking probing questions that can make kids realize they have the power to make changes in their lives.
• Discuss reducing screen time. As a population we are getting more sedentary. Everything is at our fingertips with remote controls and mobile devices. We all know these devices can be addictive. Explain why it is important to turn them off, walk away and spend time outdoors.
• Cover the basics of nutrition and exercise. Eat in moderation, keep healthy snacks in the home, and move more. Walking, swimming, and riding a bike are things kids can easily do in the summer to keep active. Encourage parents to look for opportunities for their children to play on community sports teams. Tennis, baseball/softball and soccer are standard offerings in many towns and usually affordable on a recreational level.
Like most PAs, I chose this career because it affords a good work/life balance. I realize it's not the money that is most important - it is the impact I make and the legacy that I leave behind. The childhood obesity epidemic is a national challenge and physicians and PAs have the opportunity to empower change and make a real difference.
Justin Latino, PA-C,is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). He works in emergency medicine at JFK Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Latino has a Master's Degree in PA Studies from Nova Southeastern University and completed a fellowship in emergency medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School. He also has a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Emergency Medicine from NCCPA.