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Docs to Use BMI in Child Obesity Fight

New Policy Puts Pediatricians on Front Lines in Preventing Obesity
By
WebMD Health News

Aug. 4, 2003 -- Forget about pounds, inches, and percentiles, parents may soon be hearing a lot more about their child's body mass index (BMI) from their pediatrician as part of a new effort to combat childhood obesity.

New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) call for pediatricians and parents to take more active roles in preventing and treating childhood obesity in ways that go beyond standard yearly height and weight measurements.

It's the first policy statement from the organization specifically to address the growing problem of obesity among children. It calls for using changes in a child's BMI over time as an indicator of the child's risk of becoming overweight or obese.

BMI as Prevention Tool

"We're trying to encourage them to not wait until children are already overweight, but to see trends that are concerning before they get to a problem point," says researcher Nancy Krebs, MD, chair of the nutrition committee of the AAP.

"Sometimes doctors think they can just look at a child and say whether or not they are overweight. The BMI provides us with a tool to see if child's weight gain is excessive or appropriate relative to their height gain."

BMI is a measurement of weight in relationship to height that is widely used to define overweight and obesity. A child with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile for age and sex is considered to be at risk of overweight, and a BMI above the 95th percentile is considered overweight or obese.

According to national statistics, the number of overweight and obese children and teens in the U.S. has doubled in the last 20 years, and more than 15% of children 6-19 years old are now considered overweight or obese.

The report also calls on parents to promote healthy eating as well as encourage physical activity through unstructured playtime and limiting TV and video time to less than two hours per day.

Putting Child Obesity on the Radar Screen

Experts say many parents may not recognize or accept the potential risk of their child becoming overweight, and this new policy will help raise awareness of the issue.

"There are many parents of children who are overweight or at risk for overweight who don't necessarily see it as an issue," says obesity researcher Myles Faith, PhD, who works in the weight and eating disorders program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

"Simply making families, physicians, and health-care professionals more aware won't solve the problem, but it does help put it on radar screen of some families."

Researchers say the health consequences of the obesity epidemic among American youth are serious. Overweight children are likely to become overweight and obese adults, and the medical problems associated with childhood obesity can affect adult health and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, children who are overweight or obese are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression and low self-esteem.

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