Looking for a quick fix for ADHD, obesity and more?
A frantic mother brought her two children (ages 8 and 10) into the emergency room where I worked as a physician assistant. The emergency? Her children were driving her crazy.
I walked into the examination room to find the youngest climbing on the counters helping her older brother remove all the supplies from the cabinets so she could hide. I asked them to stop. They ignored me.
I then gently grabbed the children by an arm and asked them to be seated. They talked back instead. Appalled by their disrespect, I threatened to call security; they dared me, making it clear they had no intention of following my instructions. (Meanwhile, the mother didn’t appear concerned or embarrassed.)
So I called security. The officer escorted the kids, kicking and shouting, to the waiting area. I attended to the frazzled mother who was convinced her children had attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and needed medication.
What’s the problem?
The medical system has advanced so much in the last century that the health and longevity of mankind have changed considerably. (Life expectancy for Americans was about 49 in 1900; today it is 76.) So we expect the best health care on demand.
In the midst of all these health benefits, have we become a clientele that uses medical intervention to cover up irresponsibility?
The mom in the ER was clearly looking for a medical solution for her rowdy children. With the publicity surrounding the development of behavioural-control medications, many parents are demanding prescriptions for their spirited youngsters, convinced the problem is ADHD.
ADHD is a serious diagnosis; when appropriate, medication helps children and adults manage ADHD. But a diagnosis should not be given lightly or be seen as a quick fix for parenting woes.
Child psychiatrist Elizabeth J. Roberts wrote in The Washington Post, “Setting aside the children with legitimate mental illnesses who must have psychiatric medications to function normally, much of the increase in prescribing such medications to kids is due to the widespread use of psychiatric diagnoses to explain away the results of poor parenting practices.”
The “clientele” mentality is clear when looking at the national epidemic of obesity that is straining the health-care system, chewing through $90 billion and affecting more than 60 million adults and 9 million children and teens.
How many people do you know, perhaps yourself included, who frequent fast-food restaurants because their schedules don’t allow room for cooking at home? We all know that fast food isn’t healthy, but who is motivated to control diet and exercise when we have such conveniences in conjunction with effective medicines for regulating blood sugar and blood pressure, surgeries for organ damage, and pills for reducing high cholesterol?
The problem is that these fixes often take care of symptoms instead of the root problem. In truth, a healthy diet and regular exercise alone potentially cure many ills. When symptoms or concerns continue even when diet and exercise are optimal, then a medication may be necessary.
In my clinical experience, I’ve seen few people take responsibility for their lifestyle when medications or procedures can manage the health “problems” that their lifestyle creates. It is easier to take a pill or injection than to make the right choices. Being healthy requires commitment, diligence and, quite frankly, a lot of work.
One example: A patient of mine had type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and 100 pounds of extra weight. Despite his rapidly deteriorating health, he flatly refused to eat healthy or exercise. He wasn’t even willing to make a small compromise and drink diet soda instead of regular.
For some folks, chest pains or the ominous results of a routine exam cause them to understand there is a problem, and they will take it seriously enough to change. But many, like the gentleman I treated, would rather have a “quick fix” than make healthy choices.
Certainly not everyone chooses the easy way out. But the busyness of life does make it difficult to take responsibility for one’s health. We must care for our bodies for good reason: They are God’s temple, and we were designed to glorify Him with them. Medical intervention is most effective when combined with a healthy lifestyle and a commitment to care for ourselves and our families.
Vicki Dihle is a medical review analyst for Focus on the Family and a certified physician assistant.