Friday, January 29, 2010

Public health panel urges routine obesity screening for children

One in six American children is overweight, and all kids, beginning at age six, should be checked.

Kids entering the first grade can now add a new test to the vision and hearing tests many schools require them to get: an obesity test. Public health officials want doctors to screen all children for obesity beginning at age six, and to refer overweight children to “intensive” weight management programs. The recommendation was announced this week by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, the same group that caused an outcry late last year when it urged baseline mammograms for women beginning at age 50 instead of 40.

The health policy panel said doctors should use height and weight measurements to calculate children’s body mass index (BMI). Kids whose BMI is over the 95 percentile for their age and gender are considered obese and should receive weight management treatment, members of the task force said. That treatment should include three parts: counseling, physical activity and behavioral management training for goal-setting and self-monitoring.

One possible problem, public heath officials acknowledged, is that there aren’t many juvenile weight management programs that are both effective and affordable. The existing programs that are comprehensive enough to help kids change eating and activity patterns generally are private and can be quite expensive. Still, the growing problem of childhood obesity has led more hospitals and other health care facilities to offer weight management programs for kids.

Public health experts have called childhood obesity everything from an “impending catastrophe” to a “massive tsunami” threatening the American health care system. Already, obese children and very young adults are showing signs of developing Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Approximately 15 percent of kids age 6-15 are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and a 2005 report in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested obesity could shorten the lifespan of today’s kids by two to five years.

Worried that your kids are in danger of becoming overweight? Here are some things you can do:
  • Involve your kids in meal planning and preparation. There are plenty of cookbooks for kids available, and many emphasize healthful eating. Tape the food pyramid to the refrigerator, and then have your kids plan a meal a week. Also, have your kids pack their own lunches based on the pyramid guidelines.
  • Look for community programs, such as the YMCA, that offer after-school sports, recreation and sometimes even nutrition programs. Go for a family walk or bike ride after dinner. If you’re having trouble tearing your child away from the computer screen, consider investing in one of the popular video game exercise programs.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor. He or she can refer you to a nutritionist for help on meal planning and a counselor for tips on how to support your child emotionally during the weight management journey.
What ideas do you have for helping kids achieve and maintain a healthy weight and attitude?

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