Parents who take their children for "annuals" at the pediatrician's office -- is this even a common thing anymore? -- might be shocked to learn that their family doctor is about to give the classic wellness visit a serious upgrade. Whether or not they are at risk for high cholesterol, children between the ages of 9 and 11 will receive cholesterol testsbecause doctors believe these can reduce the chance that they will suffer from heart disease later on in life, according to new guidelines published this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If high cholesterol levels are detected in young children, docs say they can usepreventive measures, like making recommendations on how they can change their diets and incorporate more exercise into their lives, in an effort to stop a major problem before it starts. And cholesterol screenings aren't the only change you can expect.

The recent guidelines also recommend that all newborns have their blood oxygen levels tested before leaving the hospital, which is excellent news because only 17 states currently require this cheap and life-saving screening. This test allows doctors to detect whether a baby suffers from congenital heart defects that can be treated prior to mom and dad bringing him home.

The AAP has included a guideline that children ages 11 and older be screened for depression and substance abuse. This isn't exactly new, as many pediatricians focus on psychologicaland physical well-being, but doctors will now have what sounds like a generic list of questions to ask in order to determine if your child may be at risk for depression and drug or alcohol abuse.

Perhaps the most controversial change to come involves HIV screening. Initially, experts considered recommending HIV/AIDS tests to children as young as 13. Pediatricians are now saying they should be administered to teens between the ages of 16 and 18, but that kids 13 and older could be considered if they are at risk.

Some parents may be opposed to these tests for moral reasons or because they don't agree that children younger than 18 have the right to confidentially receive their HIV test results. One thing is for sure: the wellness visit has certainly evolved and will no longer consist of doctors simply measuring adolescents' weight and height measurements or giving them shots. Time will tell whether families feel these changes are for the better.

How do you feel about the new guidelines issues by the American Academy of Pediatrics?

 

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