WITH a bit of early intervention, a pediatrician can nip a lifetime of fat-related health problems in the bud.
But a new study finds that pediatricians are failing in large numbers to take step one in the manual of fat prevention -- calculating a child's body mass index, or BMI. In a survey of 400 patients' charts at an academic medical center, researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that pediatricians had calculated BMI for roughly 1 in 20 children ages 5 to 11.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2003 recommended that pediatricians screen all patients for risk of obesity by calculating their BMI every year. "It's easy," says Dr. Jennifer Hillman, lead author of the study, which will be presented this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Toronto. But four years after the AAP urged them to start doing BMI calculations routinely, many pediatricians need to be reminded of the measurement's value, Hillman says.
A 2005 survey of pediatricians in North Carolina suggests a few reasons why pediatricians have been slow to take up the cudgels against child obesity. Only 12% said they felt they had the tools to treat overweight children effectively. Physicians most often complained they could not compete with fast food and sweetened soft drinks and that they lacked materials to educate patients. Many feared offending children and their families.