Rural health care providers in California look to Telehealth to supply the training needed to manage childhood obesity

Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381

Telehealth technologies, such as videoconferencing, may help rural providers learn how to manage pediatric obesity, suggests a new study. Childhood obesity in the United States has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and currently affects 17 percent of U.S. children, with an another 15 percent considered overweight. Obesity in children is known to be a risk factor for the development of many serious conditions, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol, obstructive sleep apnea, and emotional problems. Previous studies found that it is particularly difficult to tackle childhood obesity in rural areas because there are few local weight-loss resources, few exercise facilities, and poor access to healthy foods.

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 139 health care providers who treat children and adolescents at 39 clinics in rural California. The providers identified lack of local weight-management programs, patient motivation, and family involvement in treatment as key barriers to success. The providers most wanted readily accessible patient education materials on childhood obesity, strategies to link patients to community treatment programs, and training in skills to provide brief, focused counseling to patients.

The providers saw telehealth, such as teleconferences, as useful for communicating with specialists, undertaking Web-based education, and accessing interactive case conferences on childhood obesity. Based on these findings, the researchers recommend using telehealth technology to provide targeted interventions on managing childhood obesity to rural health care providers in California, and repeating the study with rural providers in other States.

The researchers contacted 78 rural clinics in California known to have telehealth connectivity with the University of California at Davis Center for Health and Technology to identify 41 clinics that provided health care to children under age 18 and the 156 providers who treated them. Providers were asked to complete a three-page questionnaire on their self-perceived effectiveness in treating childhood obesity, barriers to treatment and helpful resources, and interest in telehealth technologies. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS18567).

More details are in "Pediatric obesity management in rural clinics in California and the role of telehealth in distance education," by Ulfat Shaikh, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., Jasmine Nettiksimmons, M.A., and Patrick Romano, M.D., M.P.H., in the Journal of Rural Health 27(3), pp. 263-269, 2011.

Page last reviewed May 2012
Internet Citation: Rural health care providers in California look to Telehealth to supply the training needed to manage childhood obesity: Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381. May 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.