Children are encouraged to get regular checkups. In addition to answering a parent’s questions, these visits are meant to reinforce a healthy lifestyle and to screen for certain conditions based on the child’s age. For babies and toddlers, screening questions focus on nutrition, growth and development, and safety. For school-aged children, this focus is broadened to include exercise, academic readiness, and the management of common childhood problems. Adolescents need more independence and should spend some time alone with the doctor.
Every checkup includes a physical examination where the doctor ensures the child is growing well and does not have any problems that could interfere with his health. Checkups are also accompanied by vaccinations to prevent the large number of serious diseases that children are at risk for.
Each question or test a doctor does has a purpose. For example, screen vision and hearing is screened yearly for two reasons:
- Children may not notice if they are not seeing or hearing well.
- Research has shown that vision and hearing can change over a span of six to twelve months.
The reason most pediatricians do not do blood tests every year is because the situation is different when it comes to blood work. Doctors routinely check for anemia (low blood count) at nine months and two years of age because the rapid growth of early childhood is a risk factor for developing iron-deficiency. However, if a child is healthy and has a healthy diet, the likelihood of developing anemia in elementary school is very low. This does not mean a doctor will not do blood work throughout this time period, however. But research does not support doing yearly blood counts on most children. Adolescent girls need blood counts more frequently because menstruation puts them at increased risk for iron-deficiency.
Other blood tests you may have heard of include:
- Cholesterol levels
- Liver and kidney tests
- Lead tests
- Vitamin D levels
While each of these tests is important, there is no reason to do them on a yearly basis. Each doctor will decide when to do them based on the child’s age and certain risk factors, which include family history, if the child has an underlying medical problem, and where the child lives.