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Health & Pregnancy

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Docs to Use BMI in Child Obesity Fight

New Policy Puts Pediatricians on Front Lines in Preventing Obesity

Putting Child Obesity on the Radar Screen continued...

"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.

Stopping Obesity Before it Starts

The guidelines, which appear in the August issue of Pediatrics, emphasize recognizing and addressing the issue of a child's weight before it gets out of control.

Key recommendations include:

  • Identify and track children at risk for becoming overweight due to a family history of obesity, birth weight, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and other cultural and environmental factors.
  • Calculate and plot BMI once a year in all children and adolescents according to CDC growth charts for age and sex.
  • Use changes in BMI to identify excessive weight gain relative to growth.
  • Encourage breast feeding. Studies have linked breast feeding to a decrease in obesity later in life.
  • Encourage parents and caregivers to promote healthy eating patterns.
  • Routinely promote physical activity, including unstructured play.
  • Limit television and video time to a maximum of two hours per day.

Once at-risk children are identified, researchers say pediatricians should talk to parents about strategies to prevent childhood obesity.

"The good news is that for families who see a problem and are willing to get involved, family-based behavioral interventions can be effective for many overweight children," says Faith. "Many small changes have to be implemented, any one strategy by itself probably won't be as effective as multiple strategies."

Those strategies might include training parents about setting an example with healthy food choices, decreasing sedentary activities, and rewarding healthy food choices.

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