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The Importance of Annual Physicals for Children

Last updated: Aug 24, 2018

 

The Importance of Annual Physicals for Children

That time of year has rolled around again! September is upon us and it’s time to start prepping your children for the looming school year ahead—new clothes, new school supplies, new schedule! With all of that on your plate, do you really have to find time to fit in an annual physical for your child too? The answer is yes!

SMG Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine specialist, Dr. Daniel Hermann, is here to remind us that even if your child seems healthy now, it’s still important to schedule them for an annual physical to stay on top of, not only their health and development, but their social milestones or any unexplained issues. Plus, the better the doctor knows your child, the quicker they can determine when something is wrong! In the below Q&A, Dr. Hermann touches on the wide range of benefits annual check-ups offer, what a typical annual check-up visit is like, and what parents should pay close attention to.

Why are physicals important for everyone, but most importantly, children?

Physicals are important for everyone, especially children, as they give both parents and children an opportunity to assess growth and development. Physicals give the pediatrician insight into family dynamics and the environment in which the child is growing and learning. They also allow parents to ask questions about raising their children in a safe and healthy way.

Does my child need a physical every year, even if they seem healthy?

Yes, children change so much over a year, both physically and psychologically. They grow and develop very rapidly over short periods of time. Thus, we see infants shortly after birth, then at two weeks and again at one month of age.  Once a child is two months, we see them every two months until they reach six months of age. After that, we see them every three months until they reach 18 months. Then, every six months until the child is three years old and annually thereafter. What parents do, with guidance from their pediatrician, helps mold the children into strong, healthy, young adults.  

Age of Child

Physical Time Period

Infant

seen shortly after birth, at two weeks, and at one month old

2-6 months old

seen every two months

6-18 months old

seen every three months

18 months – 3-years-old

seen every six months

three years old

seen annually

 

How can I prepare my child for a physical?

Talk to your child about what to expect at the physical. They will be weighed, and their height will be measured. Their vision and hearing will be checked as well. Let them know, you, the parent will be right there with them for the exam.  Address any concerns the child may have about the physical. For instance, they may be scared about getting vaccines.  You can contact your pediatrician before the visit to review what the visit entails. This way you will be fully informed and can pass that information along, as you see fit, to your child.
 

What does a typical child physical consist of?

For infants and toddlers up to 2-1/2 years of age, their length/height, weight, and head circumference will be checked and documented in the Electronic Health Record (EHR).  Starting at three years old, their height, weight and blood pressure will be documented. We check vision and hearing starting at four years of age and the pediatrician will do a thorough head-to-toe physical exam. I show the parents and my child patients their growth trend and discuss proper growth. I point out everything I find during the exam, normal or not. I also inquire about all types of development (social, gross and fine motor skills, speech, etc.), nutrition, and sleep habits. For school aged children, I find it helpful for me to know about any academic achievements, and if the child is having difficulties. I ask about what is going on socially with their relationships, both within the family (i.e. moving, a new sibling, etc.) and outside of it with friends, especially any instances of bullying. I ask about sleep, hygiene, and nutrition as well since those are key factors in a child's growth and development. I always review expected developmental milestones at the visit and advise what I expect at the next physical exam visit. The next step is to review vaccine status. We review vaccine status in order to make sure their child is fully protected against many serious bacterial and viral infections. We follow the standards set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
 

What numbers are particularly important to pay attention to?

For infants, length, weight and head circumference are important in giving us clues as to how a baby is growing and developing. For children, we check their height, weight, blood pressure, vision, and hearing.
 

Is there a difference between a regular physical exam and a sports physical?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends both an annual physical exam (PE) and a sports physical, or Pre-participation Exam (PPE). The sports physical, or PPE, concentrates on things that can impact participation in sports. Due to insurance restrictions, this is usually addressed at the annual PE. For health care continuity purposes, the AAP recommends that the sports PEs be done at your pediatrician's office rather than at a clinic or school.

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