“Mommy, will I get a pretzel?,” my youngest child asked as we drove to the pediatrician’s office for her well visit.
Yep, that’s right. Pretzels. At the pediatrician’s office.
Lots of sodium, no nutritional value whatsoever. And after a well visit from someone whose main goal is to keep my kids healthy.
I suppose I should be happy it’s not a lollipop.
The first time the pediatrician gave a pretzel to my older child at one of her well visits, I was surprised. It’s not the worst food a kid can eat but it’s definitely not the most nutritious.
Kids are already eating way too many processed, sodium-filled foods. In fact, a study in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that almost 90 percent of children consume more than the upper level of sodium recommended for their age group.
Perhaps what’s even more strange is that the doctor handed her a pretzel after he charted her height and weight, her growth trends and body mass index (BMI), measured her blood pressure, asked about her diet and talked about making sure she was getting enough calcium, iron-rich foods and she avoided juice.
I also wondered why the doctor was giving my kid food in the first place? I doubt it’s for good behavior since so many kids scream bloody murder when they get their shots. To be fair, they also hand out stickers so I suppose they want the children to remember their experience as a positive one.
Don’t get me wrong. My kids eat pretzels but it’s usually at a party or as an occasional treat on the weekends. Packaged food doesn’t make its way into my home or my kids’ mouths very often.
I don’t believe in labeling foods “good” or “bad” for my kids, only healthy or unhealthy.
I also don’t want to make any food off limits because this could create an unhealthy relationship with food as they get older.
So they are allowed to get a pretzel at the doctor’s. But when it comes to their pediatrician, I take their advice with a grain of salt.
Only 24 Hours Of Nutrition Education
When it comes to your children’s health, your pediatrician should always be your first source of information and advice. They know your children best and can help you find specialists and support from other providers should you need them.
Out of all the types of doctors, I think pediatricians are unique. Most choose the profession because they love kids and want them to have a healthy future. Unlike other types of doctors, they also work with the patient and the entire family to make sure children have the best start in life.
When my daughters were babies, we had one of the best pediatricians around. He would spend well over an hour at each visit to make sure we understood everything and that he addressed our concerns. I never felt rushed and I always thought that he gave me the information and empowered my husband and I to make the best choices for our children. I will forever be grateful to him for his support and care.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that pediatricians play a crucial role when it comes to preventing childhood obesity, and they should be a resource for the community and be a part of the solution, particularly because they typically follow children for years.
According to this report, they state, “Even when families have sufficient knowledge of healthy behaviors, they may need help from pediatricians to develop the motivation to change, to provide encouragement through setbacks, and to identify and support appropriate community resources that will help them successfully implement behavior changes.”
When it comes to nutrition, however, most pediatricians aren’t the best people to get information and advice from.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that physicians receive an average of 23.9 hours of nutrition instruction while in medical school. That’s not even a day devoted to learning about the one thing that can make or break your child’s health.
What’s more, 71 percent of medical schools in the U.S. don’t provide 25 hours of nutrition education—the minimum amount that’s recommended, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Education, found.
Another study found that fourth year medical and osteopathic school graduates who were entering a pediatric residency program could correctly answer only 52 percent of the questions about nutrition.
Surprisingly, pediatric gastroenterology is the only pediatric subspecialty that requires nutrition to be part of its official curriculum and objective. Although most of these doctors say they have an average or above average knowledge of nutrition, 67 percent want to learn more about childhood obesity, a study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.
No Time To Talk About Healthy Eating
Your pediatrician will probably ask a few questions about your child’s diet but between the time it takes to chart his growth curves, ask all of the questions required for insurance, review all of the developmental screenings, and perform the physical exam, there’s not much time left to take a deep dive into what your children eat, how much and if they have healthy eating habits.
In fact, nearly 50 percent of parents say their pediatricians spend only between 11 and 20 minutes for well visits and approximately one-third say they spend less than 10 minutes, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.
Although there are some doctors who have more time to spend with patients, or those who are more knowledgeable when it comes to nutrition, chances are, you’re better off finding a pediatric nutritionist to help you tackle things like picky eating, overeating, special diets and food allergies.