While U.S. doctors often urge obese teens to eat better and exercise more, overweight kids headed for obesity seldom get the same medical advice, a new study shows.
That's important, experts say, because preventing obesity is much easier than dealing with it once it's there.
In the study, fewer than half of all adolescents were advised to eat a healthful diet by their doctor, and only about a third were also told to get more exercise.
This type of advice was more commonly doled out to obese boys and girls than their normal-weight counterparts, but overweight adolescents -- those at highest risk of becoming obese -- were counseled much less often.
The bottom line is that "there is still significant room for improvement in terms of the diagnosis, prevention and management of weight issues in children," said one expert, Dr. Yolandra Hancock, a primary care pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She was not involved with the study.
If doctors aren't helping overweight kids slim down, it's up to parents to step in, she said.
"If your provider has not brought up weight or body-mass index (BMI), ask how much your child weighs, what their [BMI] is and how it compares to other same-aged kids," she said. "Once this conversation is initiated, the provider will take the lead."
BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 30 is typically considered the threshold for obesity.
The study, led by Dr. Lan Liang of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md., appears online in advance of print publication in the July issue of Pediatrics.