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The Doctor is In: Getting a Read on Children’s Health

At Kaiser Permanente, free books in early well-child visits help complete the story of pediatric patients’ health and development.

When my young patients come in for a well-child appointment, their visits are full of vital signs, immunizations, and lively discussions about their health and development.

After we crack open a book.

As a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician in Northern California, I’m also a participant in Reach Out and Read, a national pediatric literacy program Kaiser Permanente has supported since 2007.

Each year, Kaiser Permanente distributes more than 240,000 books to our patients ages 6 months to 5 years during their well-child visits at our 47 pediatric and family medicine clinics in Northern California.

Books are indisputably nice—but what do they have to do with a child’s health?

Over the years I’ve served as a pediatrician, I’ve become convinced that the books I share with my young patients are essential for “reading” my young patients.

And the reasons are as varied as the plot lines in a favorite story.

Children often are afraid of medical offices. But when we are sharing a new book, I am showing them that the doctor’s office can be a positive place. (Preschoolers often return asking for another book and looking forward to the next check-up.)

This can encourage a lifetime of them wanting to take care of their health.

Whether I’m watching babies chew on board books or preschoolers page through early readers, I learn important things such as attention span and listening and language skills.

How a child interacts with a book either validates his or her healthy development, or raises a red flag that I can follow up on. Reading these cues early in the lives of children gives physicians and parents time to correct small problems before they become larger.

But books tell a bigger story.

A home filled with regular reading helps the whole family. In our stressful modern lives, we all need to take time to relax—children, especially. Reading is the perfect quiet activity.

As a parent, I always loved reading bedtime stories to my own children, which prompted deep talks—or sometimes a deep stillness as they would easily fall asleep.

A good book can be powerful, whether it’s sharing the classics, or reading books that reflect the cultural beliefs or ethnic heritage that a family treasures.

Some years ago, I learned that the single most important thing you can do with your preschoolers to ensure they are ready for kindergarten is to read to them regularly. What might be less known, however, is the impact early reading has on adolescents.

Studies show that children whose parents read to them do better in school, and when they do better in school, they have less substance abuse, a lower drop-out rate, and lower rates of depression—all issues that perpetuate and lead to other problems.

When sharing books with your young children, move your finger across the page. Show them how you read from left to right. Build a library at home. Get a card for your public library, where books are free and plentiful.
It doesn’t matter what your children read; only that they read.

I think I’m nearly done telling the story of why early reading matters, except for why Kaiser Permanente heavily supports it with our time and funding.

We are here to help improve total health. While checking on weight, height, and health concerns from asthma to congenital conditions is a pediatrician’s job, we’re also on the lookout for learning abilities and disabilities, school success, and overall development.

Simply put, books help us help children.

We believe they have an essential place in both the home and the exam room.

Dara E. Hogue, M.D., is a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, where she has worked since 2008 after 12 years of private practice in Fremont. She attended Stanford University, graduating in 1989; graduated from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine in 1993; and completed a pediatric residency at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford in 1996. While she practices general pediatrics, she has special interests in child development, ADHD, and advocating for vaccination of children. She is the mother of two teenagers and longtime Bay Area resident.

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