Does My Child Need An Annual Physical?

pediatrician examining a babyIt’s easy to know when to take babies and toddlers to the doctor for well-baby and well-child checkups. The schedule is pretty rigid, and we have the need for immunizations to consider too. So at two weeks, two months, six months, etc. we trot off to the doctor’s office for a checkup. After two years old, it’s still easy – once a year visits are the norm and are often covered by insurance. Plus your child is still getting immunizations during these years.
But after age five, things become much less clear. Children typically don’t need any immunizations after age five or six until they are around 12. They’re not growing as fast, and you probably have fewer questions about their development. Some camp and sports activities require a physical, but otherwise, do you really need to take your children in for an annual physical or checkup?
The answer is yes – if not annual, then at least bi-annual. During a physical, your child’s doctor can 
  • Make sure your child’s long-term health is good
  • Detect major health problems early
  • Look at overall growth and development
  • Encourage positive habits such as exercise, healthy food, and safe habits such as wearing a helmet when bicycling
  • Check for missed immunizations or boosters
  • Screen for dental, vision, speech, and hearing problems
  • Ask if you or your child has any questions or concerns about growth, development, nutrition, sex, substance abuse, etc. 
Some items your doctor will probably check during a thorough physical exam include 
  • Cholesterol level
  • Blood count
  • Urine screening
  • Blood sugar level
  • Lead screening
  • Scoliosis check
  • Height, weight, and blood pressure
  • Signs of puberty 

Another good reason for scheduling regular physicals for your children is so they develop a trusting relationship with their doctor. If your children are generally healthy like mine, they could easily go a year or more without visiting their pediatrician. I want them to know and trust their doctor so if they do ever have health problems or questions, they will feel they can talk to him. In addition, it sets a healthy habit for their lives, and hopefully they will continue to schedule regular physicals as they become adults.

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