Parents Predicts: The Big Issues for 2013

PTSD and Obesity

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

At the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual conference in October, several sessions addressed children and trauma. Part of that may have been because it was held in New Orleans, where many local experts could speak with considerable authority on the lasting effects of Hurricane Katrina on children. And it's also partly due to changes in the upcoming DSM-5 (see "The Book That'll Change How Mental Health Disorders Are Diagnosed," above). This version will better address young children-particularly preschoolers-so that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, will be more easily recognized, diagnosed, and hopefully treated.

The AAP conference took place before Sandy, the storm that killed more than 100 people in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and caused more than $78 billion in damage. This kind of disaster is a major cause of PTSD in children, and for that reason alone we can expect to hear even more about the condition in the months ahead.

Parents should know that genuine post-traumatic stress requires professional help, says Michael Scheeringa, M.D., M.P.H., a Remigio Gonzales professor of psychiatry at Tulane University in New Orleans who has an expertise in preschoolers and PTSD. "People think of it as cuts or bad memories that fade with time, but it's not just going to go away," he says. If your child shows symptoms of PTSD a month after the traumatic event, seriously consider getting help. Symptoms after a weather disaster like Sandy may include panic during a rainstorm, fear of wind, and being afraid of the dark or even to take a bath (seven years after Katrina, "we still see this," says Dr. Scheeringa). Another important point: "You can't tell a child has PTSD just by looking at him or her," he says. The condition is triggered by certain events, so the signs can be fleeting. If you have any concerns about your child, speak to your pediatrician. "Simply saying 'My child isn't acting the way he usually does? should be all the doctor needs to make a referral," insists Dr. Scheeringa.


It's impossible to do any kind of "hot-button issue" roundup without including childhood obesity, which continues to plague our kids, more than one-third of whom are overweight or obese. But in 2013, pediatricians should be better equipped than ever before to help families manage the problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently announced its Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight, which has the simple but monumental goal of training pediatricians to assist kids and their parents in obesity prevention and treatment. Doctors have long wanted to do this effectively, explains Sandra Hassink, M.D., chair of the advisory committee for the Institute: "It's often a matter of their getting the information, getting the workflow in the office, and getting the logistics worked out." This is where the Institute comes in, particularly its new Healthy Active Living for Families (HALF) program, which offers both parents and doctors age-by-age advice. Pediatricians are also getting lots of training on how to talk to families; Dr. Hassink described a very cool avatar-based program that allows doctors to practice having those potentially tricky conversations, since "motivational interviewing is a big part of helping families create goals and make change." The bottom line is that in 2013, parents should feel good about turning to their doctor with any concerns about their child's weight. Pediatricians now have the tools to help.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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