Do physicians discuss needed diet and nutrition health topics with adolescents?

Jonathan D Klein, Corinne K Postle, Richard E Kreipe, Shannon M Smith, Scott McIntosh, Jean Spada, Deborah Ossip-Klein
Journal of Adolescent Health 2006, 38 (5): 608.e1-6

PURPOSE: Preventive services guidelines recommend screening all adolescents for diet habits, physical activity and growth, counseling underweight teens about body image and dieting patterns, and counseling overweight or obese teens about dietary habits and exercise. In this study, we assess whether adolescents at risk for overweight or for eating disorders have discussed recommended diet and nutrition topics with their physicians.

METHODS: We surveyed 14-18-year-old adolescents who had been seen for well care in primary care pediatric and family medicine practices. Adolescents self-reported their weight, height, body image, dieting habits, and issues they had discussed with their clinicians. Body mass index (BMI) was used to define those "at risk for an eating disorder" (< 5% BMI), "at risk of becoming overweight" (85%-95% BMI), and "overweight" (> 95% BMI).

RESULTS: A total of 8384 adolescents completed surveys (72% completion rate). Nearly one-third of adolescents were "at risk" or overweight. Females were less likely to be overweight than males (9.4% vs. 15.7%; p < .001). Although 26.4% were attempting to lose weight, only 12.2% of all teens were actually overweight. Exercise and restricting intake were the preferred methods of weight loss. Physicians routinely discussed adolescents' weight during visits, and were more likely to discuss it with those "at risk" (p < .001). Body image was more often discussed with girls than with boys (52% vs. 44.6%, p < .001) and with those at risk (51.6% vs. 45.5%; p < .001). Discussion of healthy eating and weight loss occurred more often with adolescents "at risk" for becoming overweight (p < .001).

CONCLUSIONS: Many adolescents are at risk for being overweight or are currently overweight, confirming the importance of clinicians discussing diet and nutrition health topics with all teens. Many adolescents also misclassify their body image, and hence perceive their body image to be different from their actual BMI; clinicians should discuss body image with all adolescents, not just those at risk for eating disorders. Better interventions are needed to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity to all adolescents.

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