Get a Healthy Advantage with an Annual Physical July 9, 2012

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For many people, an annual visit to the doctor can be stressful or just not a top priority. But prevention is always the best medicine, according to Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity and Children's/Austin ISD Student Health Services.

In fact, Dr. Pont suggests one of the best things you can do for your children and yourself is to get an annual check-up.

"Annual physicals are good for all folks," Dr. Pont said, "but they're especially important for kids. From a prevention standpoint, what's better than preventing or avoiding something before it occurs? For adults and children, there are many problems that may not cause you to feel bad at first, but by the time you do, things have worsened or a more serious condition has developed. And if you are worried about something, it is much easier to treat it if you catch it early on."

What Happens During a Physical?

"What happens at each visit depends on your age," Dr. Pont explained. When children visit their pediatrician, the doctor can provide guidance and describe what to expect next as your children get older.

"When parents know in advance what to expect, they can be prepared," he added. "Before your infant starts to roll, you can be warned to be careful that they don't roll off higher objects, like a changing table. Before they start to crawl, your doctor will explain that it is important to look for choking hazards and other potential dangers that your crawling child may encounter Get down on the floor, crawl around and look for these dangers - such as exposed electrical sockets, coins or small parts of toys that are now accessible for the crawling baby. Toddlers have even greater mobility and so face new challenges and dangers. Through taking simple steps, parents can keep them safe and avoid serious injuries and accidents."

Additionally, for children, doctors always check for age-appropriate developmental milestones and plot their growth as this can be a warning sign if it is off track. For things such as weight, a small change to eat a bit healthier early on in life can prevent many future challenges. Depending on the age of the child, they will do screenings for conditions such as autism, scoliosis and depression, and will provide important immunizations.

For adults, preventive measures are a big part of their exams, too. For example, if blood work shows abnormalities such as high cholesterol, adults to can take a course of action to avoid having future problems. Other preventive measures may be recommended depending on your age, like mammograms for women in their 40s and prostate exams for men when they reach age 50. Some screenings are done sooner depending upon other risk factors and family medical history.

Develop a Relationship

Visiting your doctor every year is a big step in managing the health of you and your family. It's important that your doctor knows what you and your child are like when you are healthy. Then, when you are sick, they have a baseline for your health. This is especially important for young children and children with special health care needs.

Here are other tips for making the most of your annual doctor's visit:

  • Come with questions. Your annual check-up is a great time to ask any questions you might have about how things have going health-wise and to ask about what you can do to keep you and your family healthy.
  • Know your medications. If you and your children are currently taking prescriptions, over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements, bring a list to your doctor's office. Your doctor will review these to make sure that they are all safe and needed for you and your family. And this also helps ensure that your physician does not prescribe any medications that interact with what you or your children are already taking.
  • Keep a health binder. Take notes at your annual check-ups. In fact, take notes at all of your health visits. If you have to see a specialist, visit the emergency department or be admitted to the hospital, jot down some notes and keep all of your records in one place like a handy health binder.
  • Know your health history. If a medication was changed, write down when and why. Family medical history also is important. Inform your doctor so that he or she can be especially vigilant in looking for symptoms and in talking with you about prevention and early detection.
  • Give your teen some space. Dr. Pont recommends that parents give teens the privacy to talk with their doctor privately during a physical. "It doesn't mean that you will be excluded or not included in your child's care. For example, a teen may feel more comfortable asking about changes happening during puberty (perspiring, hair growth, etc.) without a parent present."
  • Be specific. If a symptom occurs, know whether it happens all the time or if something triggers it, and what seems to make it better or worse. Detail can help a doctor more easily determine what's wrong. And if it's been going on for a while, try to keep track of symptoms on a calendar, keeping note of when they occur, how severe and whether you do or eat anything different around the time of the symptom.
  • Ask if you don't understand something. Doctors want you to understand and remember all that happens at your visit. If you don't speak up, they may think that you understand everything. So be sure to ask if you do not understand a medical term or course of action. Many doctors also have handouts that can help you remember some of what was discussed and give you additional health tips.

About Dr. Pont

Stephen J. Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP

photo Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Medical Director, Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity
Medical Director, Austin ISD Student Health Services
UT Southwestern, Austin - Department of Pediatrics
UT Austin - Department of Advertising
Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas

Dr. Pont is a general pediatrician and is the medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, Dell Children's Medical Center's tertiary care pediatric weight management center. The Center seeks to empower families to lead healthy, happy lives through addressing four key pillars, clinical, education, advocacy and research (CLEAR), over four levels of impact: individual/family, community/city, state and national. The Center includes a bilingual tertiary care pediatric weight management clinic ACES (Activating Children Empowering Success) , a 10-week family based group program Healthy Living Happy Living, and teen group programs in addition to education, advocacy and research activities. Dr. Pont serves on a team with the UT-School of Public Health/Dell Center for Healthy Living and the USDA/Baylor College of Medicine that has been awarded a $6.3 million CDC grant to fund a demonstration project regarding childhood obesity that will link primary care offices, schools, recreation centers/YMCAs, and community-based interventions focusing on childhood obesity in Houston and Austin.

Dr. Pont also serves as the medical director for Austin Independent School District's Student Health Services, whose Dell Children's employed staff provides student health services for the district's nearly 90,000 students and 110 campuses. Dr. Pont is a member and regular attendee of AISD's School Health Advisory Council and would love to talk with you there on the first Wednesday of the month at the AISD Board Room 6:30-8pm. He is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with UT-Southwestern, Austin Programs and received a BA from the University of Texas at Austin, which included a semester of study at the University of Costa Rica, MD from UT-Southwestern, pediatric residency at Arkansas Children's Hospital, and completed an academic general pediatrics/Master of Public Health fellowship at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Pont works at the individual, community, state and national levels to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, with many organizations including Children's Optimal Health, Marathon Kids, the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Department of Agriculture, National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions' (NACHRI), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Dr. Pont currently serves as Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Provisional Section on Obesity.

Dr. Pont is fluent in Spanish and regularly utilizes print, radio and TV media to spread health messages to English and Spanish speaking families in Austin and across Texas. He enjoys playing basketball and the guitar, travelling, and practicing Bakido karate with his sons. He also enjoys travelling annually with a group from his church for a weeklong mission trip to a children's home and rural school near Guatemala City, Guatemala. Dr. Pont struggled with his weight as a child and so from a personal level also understands the need, importance, and challenge of making healthy choices daily to maintain good health. He looks forward to working to empower you with the tools so that you too may live a healthy happy life.

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