Value of Childhood Obesity Screening Unclear
Researchers See Little Evidence That Screening Prevents Obesity-Related Illnesses
July 5, 2005 -- Twice as many kids in the U.S. are overweight today as two
decades ago, but a panel of experts says it is not clear how doctors can
In a newly released report, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
concludes that there is little proof that the current practice of screening
children in the doctor's office for overweight and obesity
"The evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine
screening … in children and adolescents as a means to prevent adverse health
outcomes," the panel noted.
The task force also concluded that behavioral counseling and other
interventions delivered by doctors during routine office visits may not do much
"There are several gaps in the research evidence on screening and
interventions for overweight children and adolescents in the primary care
setting," they wrote.
Value of BMI Mixed
The panel based its report on a review of studies evaluating the impact of
obesity screening and early treatment of overweight in kids and teens in the
The studies indicate that body mass index (BMI) -- an indirect measure of
body fat which uses a person's weight -- may not be a useful measure in younger
In children, BMI is age and sex specific; when a child's BMI measure is
greater than 95% of his peers, the child is categorized as overweight or obese.
Children that are overweight and obese have a higher risk of being overweight
and obese adolescents.
Health-related illness associated with
But Evelyn Whitlock, MD, MPH, who led the review team, says the value of
measuring overweight in young children as a predictor of obesity in adulthood
"The issue is what do you do with a 3-year-old in the 95th percentile,
and what do you tell his parents," she tells WebMD. "We don't have the
She adds that programs addressing overweight in older children and teens are
not widely available, and that there is little evidence that intervention
efforts aimed at this age group are effective.
The review is published in the July issue of the American Academy of
Pediatricians' journal Pediatrics.
Parents Often Don't See Problem
In a related study also published in the journal, researchers reported that
parents frequently don't recognize that their child is overweight, or say they
feel powerless to do anything about it.
The researchers surveyed 151 parents of children; 62% of the kids were
overweight or obese. The researchers found almost half of the parents (44%)
and were classified as
having no interest in changing behaviors in the next six months. Another 17% of
parents did recognize that their child had a problem, and were thinking about
making a change, but not soon.