How we can help children improve their health

Teenager and doctor Teenagers may not always be comfortable talking to a doctor

The health of our children and young people matters to us, and it matters to them. We want them to understand what makes them healthy, what keeps them healthy, and what to do when they have worries, are not feeling so good, or are simply ill.

In this week's Scrubbing Up, Barbara Hearn, deputy chief executive of the National Children's Bureau, says the launch of the government's Children's and Young People's Forum presents a key opportunity to improve services for them.

Teenage years are the transition years. Adolescents face choices that will affect their health now and in the future.

But while they can get information from parents, will it be up to date? When they ask their mates, will they be well informed?

While health promotion plays a key role, a significant and early point of private contact with health services for a teenager is their GP.

Some children and young people express feeling embarrassed and judged when they seek advice from their GP. They can find it hard to describe their own health concerns and find it hard to understand their doctor's response.

While GPs continue to improve in terms of their own confidence and capacity to make a child patient feel comfortable it is not yet a guaranteed good experience for those under 18's everywhere.

Practices need to be attuned to just how intimidating an all adult environment can be for teens and pre-teens to enter.

Three changes are required. Firstly, better professional development. GPs do have some training in child development but it is insufficient.

Learning how to talk to 12 -18 year olds; and even more importantly, how to listen to what they have to say; how to encourage them to speak up; and to be confident that they understand what is said to them before they leave, takes time.

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Practices need to be attuned to just how intimidating an all adult environment can be for teens and pre-teens to enter”

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We can include young people as the 'teachers' here to help GPs learn how to interact effectively with their younger patients.

GPs would benefit from feedback about their manner, the quality and simplicity of their communication, their clarity in explaining diagnoses, treatments and next steps -thereby going beyond theory to learning by doing.

Secondly, the 10-minute patient slots are simply too short to establish a relationship with a tentative young person.

Once it was clear that a patient was under 18, a double slot could automatically be booked, and re-booking done with the same GP or only GPs that have had the training.

Thirdly, to ensure the services GPs are offering are the right ones, young patients should be involved - alongside other patients - in decisions about the services their GP surgery provides.

'Break the myth'

In addition, children and young people are rightly a target for public health services.

The fact of their youth means there is time to prevent damaging behaviours and flippant attitudes developing. And time to help them establish good patterns of managing their health for the rest of their lives.

It is time to break the myth that has grown-up over the 60 years of the NHS, that health services manage your health for you making it OK to get 'hammered' and end up in A&E; or to try a drug and see what happens; or remain ignorant of what is going on inside your body while fretting over glamour and goodies on the outside.

Involvement of young people invariably moves into the 'too difficult' box, to be dealt with later, but later never comes.

Young people are avid learners. They contribute through voluntary activity far more than adults and are deeply committed to and interested in the health services.

We need to think of these reforms not as 'do to populations' but 'do with them'.

Children and young people are those with the time and energy to put into making our communities healthy. And in doing so they are able to educate themselves and their peers in ways which can change lives.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    It took 2 straight days of GP and walk in centre before I got referred tot he physio and then there was a massive waiting list! In my experience teens/ youth etc dislike the health system because they're patronised throughout the process and often can't consult with specialists when that would actually be far more helpful. But hey, these are my thoughts on it as a person in their very early 20's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As for the docs, GP's are either brilliant or rubbish. My main doc from when I was a kid was awful, the other doc I often saw was awesome! The docs at the surgery I went to at uni were also awful! They weren't interested, could be condescending and weren't all that useful either. Plus when I had knee issues I got yo-yoed back and forth between a walk in centre and the GP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Sports is key, and schools don't offer a wide enough range of them. I hated school sports but have been into sport since I was little, but schools don't do martial arts, most don't do swimming, few let lessons be about fun. It's an error. We just need a healthier attitude to body image and lets make exercise enjoyable again - there's certainly a lack of funding for sport throughout the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Given that it's no wonder such low self esteem exists in our youth today - they aren't comfortable with their bodies because they're being fed media rubbish that constantly tells them they shouldn't be ok with them! I agree junk food's bad but we need to cut to the point that all the healthy food in the world will do nothing without exercise! And this is where I shall agree with a former comment

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    So far the comments contain many misconceptions. Video games/ consoles are not bad, I am a very healthy male in his 20's who grew up playing on consoles! I still went out and played as kids still do now. Kids as always will lay both inside and out - consoles make little difference. However the images of perfection portrayed all over the place put a burden of constant comparison out there...

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    6. Nemi "NORMAL bodies look like (and I mean everything)"
    Agreed. In particular some people will always be bigger and shouldn't be made to feel like non-people as at present. Unfortunately as the other 5 comments show most are not only obsessed with 'obesity' but mistakenly believe it is the only issue affecting teens, far more so than drink / substance misuse, unsafe sex, low self-esteem etc...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Want to improve teens helping themselves health wise? Cutthose awful glossy magzines that show people as "perfect" or vilifily them as being "imperfect". Have more information about what NORMAL bodies look like (and I mean everything). It's more than cooking healthy food and not drinking alcohol. It's about peer pressure and what they perseve as normal. Mass media has to play it's part too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    How we can help children improve their health? Stop feed them junk food & and ensure they don't just sit in front of the TV, PC or games console, but do some real playing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Children should all be forced to do sport but be allowed to find a sport they enjoy instead of being forced to play games they don't like which just puts them off. They should start school with an hour of sport every day. Darts does not count.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    it won't matter iff the appointment slot is 20 mins rather than 10, the issue is that you might meet one of your parents friends in the waiting room, apart from the fact that the GP may have known you for longer than you can remember. Young peoples clinics work, different location, only peeer group present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    We can help by parents becoming more responsible and not taking them to the likes of McDonalds for dinner or a "treat".
    All artifical food colouring shoule be banned or at least children should not be allowed sweets or soft drinks with colouring until they are at least 16.
    Kids these days also too lazy and play their games consoles when they should be playing outside, I blame the parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    If adults curbed their own self interests in transport, producing food and drink that harms health, using finite natural resources at a rate of knots then this would create an enviornment where chidlren could thrive. GP's etc is focussing way too downstream. Changing the enviornmen tin which children live is key or you are just doing damage limitation later on.


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