A new study suggests that Doctors in the UK may be failing to notice the signs that a child is underweight and in critical condition.

 

The University College London asked paediatricians at 177 hospitals in England and Wales and found that a concerning amount of doctors were unable to identify underweight children and their serious complications.

 

The study was conducted by one on-call paediatrician being questioned in every hospital on their in-patient care for children. During the interview the paediatrician would be asked to identify if a child was underweight and what clinical examinations they would carry out to check for critical or potentially life-threatening complications.

Concern has been raised as only half of those interviewed would use the Body Mass Index to decide if older children/adolescents were underweight; even though it is advised by international guidelines.

 

More worrying still, only one in five admitted that they would adjust that for appropriate cut-offs in children.

 

When it came to more serious health concerns, such as a child’s weight dropping to seriously low levels, the results weren’t much better. The Archives of Diseases in Childhood reports that only 13% of participants knew the specific danger sign to look for in tests checking that the heart is working properly.

 

Many Doctors also failed to demonstrate an adequate knowledge in regards to giving nutrition to a child who had not eaten for a long period of time, or who could be severely malnourished.

 

Study leader Dr Lee Hudson from the Institute of Child Health has said that this isn’t a criticism of the doctors themselves as eating disorders tend to be presented with vague symptoms. However, Dr Hudson also believes this highlights a gap in training that needs to be remedied.

 

The paediatricians used in the study would be the first port of call for assessing young children, especially out of hours. Dr Hudson has stressed that it is important that doctors have the knowledge to spot dangerously underweight children, as one in three will develop life-threatening conditions as a consequence.

 

The Royal College of Paediatrics has replied to the study and has confirmed they are working on improving their training.