GPs urged to play greater role in preventing child obesity

GPs need more training and incentives to help curb the growing problem of childhood obesity, a GP and public health expert has said.

Child obesity: GPs can play prevention role
Child obesity: GPs can play prevention role

One in three children in the UK are overweight or obese, and around 40% of adults’ visits to the GP are for obesity-related conditions like diabetes, asthma complications, and heart disease.

Dr Sonia Saxena, a GP in Putney and a clinical researcher at Imperial College London, told GP that doctors should be taking proactive steps to prevent obesity.

‘As GPs, we’re dealing with the medical consequences of obesity with resources that take up a lot of NHS money and lots of doctors’ time,' she said.

‘Primary care staff need to play a role in the prevention of obesity – I think it should be part of our agenda to be promoting health.'

Dr Saxena hosted an RCGP event last week looking at how GPs can prevent and manage obesity in children. Of around 65 GPs who took part, the vast majority voted in favour of GPs 'proactively assessing, managing and preventing obesity in children'.

Not enough help

Children’s height and weight is measured in school at age 5 and 11, and if they are shown to be overweight, their families are sent a letter that advises them to make healthy lifestyle changes.

But Dr Saxena believes that these letters should recommend that parents visit the GP for more tailored advice.

‘Parents are telling us that they’re much more likely to make a lifestyle change if their health professional told them to. At the moment they’re just getting a letter that they’re slinging in the bin,’ Dr Saxena said.

‘They are just not able to get enough information or help when they do find out that their children have a weight problem.’

More resources

GPs would need financial incentives to be able to cope with the extra workload, Dr Saxena recommended.

‘There does need to be additional resource to incentivise that in general practice, or at least recognise the additional work that we’re going to be taking on,’ she said.

GPs can also find it difficult to bring up a child’s weight during a consultation, because they are pushed for time, they haven’t been trained in that area, or don’t want to risk alienating or upsetting the child’s parents. Specific training would also make it easier to bring up this potentially sensitive subject - something that the RCGP called for in September.

‘I’d like GPs to be trained in making very simple adjustments to their general approach,' said Dr Saxena. 'We’re missing a lot of opportunities for providing health promotion at key stages – there needs to be more investment so we can tackle it earlier.’

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