Four Reasons Your Children Need to See a Doctor Every Year

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Provided by Novant Health UVA Health System

Denyse Bailey MD

Denyse Bailey, M.D.

Ask Denyse Bailey, M.D., to list the four most important reasons children need to have annual checkups and she’ll surprise you with her first.

1: Mental health screening

“The biggest things we pick up on are mental health concerns,” said Bailey, a pediatrician with Novant Health UVA Health System Olde Towne Pediatrics – Manassas. “We screen all patients over the age of 12 for depression and it’s been surprising how many of them have tested positive. Sometimes we even pick up on suicidal thoughts.”

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death for teens aged 15 to 19 in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

2: Plotting growth

Bailey says monitoring a child’s growth is an essential asset to annual check-ups because it can detect a potential nutritional or other health problem.

“At a typical annual appointment, I record the weight, height or length, and circumference of the head, depending on the age of the child” said Bailey.

Changes in weight gain can indicate early signs of illness or malnutrition. If weight gain is normal, then height and length growth is usually normal; discrepancies in either could indicate developmental delays. Head circumference can be used to assess brain growth in children under 36 months. It could show signs of microcephaly or hydrocephaly, both of which may also be associated with developmental delays.

Congenital anomalies – health problems a child is born with – may manifest as abnormalities of growth or development. They are a leading cause of death in children 14 and under, and the number one cause of death in babies under 12 months.

3: Screening for issues that can cause chronic diseases

Next on the list is screening for what health care providers call “comorbidity.” This occurs when a patient has two or more conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, each of which is a leading cause of death in the United States.

“We know that obesity, or BMI that is higher than the 95th percentile for age, increases the risk of developing comorbidities,” said Bailey. “In children with obesity, these can include obstructive sleep apnea, elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, abnormal liver function and prediabetes. We often think of these as being diseases that affect adults, but we are starting to see them more often in adolescents.”

Most pediatricians also measure BMI, or body mass index, on all patients starting at the age of 3.

4. Screening for social determinants of health

Finally, Novant Health UVA Health System Olde Towne Pediatrics has embraced standard screening for “social determinants of health.”

Social determinants of health are conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age. They account for many health disparities in the United States.

Disadvantaged social determinants of health can have higher health risks and together they tend to increase stress, which can itself contribute to overeating and high blood pressure.

If families are determined to be food insecure, clinic staff members refer them to food banks and other community resources that may be able to help. The clinic also screens mothers for signs of postpartum depression and domestic violence.

For more information about pediatric primary care at Novant Health UVA Health System, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/pediatrics.

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