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New Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Study Finds Obesity Frequently not Addressed by Pediatricians

Study prompts Children's to test for obesity in all primary care patients

Despite the fact that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, pediatricians often fail to diagnose and treat this condition in young children, according to new research at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Researchers at Children's are the first in the field to directly assess pediatricians' performance in identifying and managing obesity. A review of the medical records for 244 obese children revealed that pediatricians failed to document obesity in one-half of the visits, especially in young children.

The findings appear in the August issue of Pediatrics, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study also found that:

  • Only 15 percent of pediatricians included a description of the child's activity level or hours of television viewing.
  • Only one-third of pediatricians noted obesity in the physical examination.
  • Only 7 percent ordered any laboratory tests, including a lipid profile, total cholesterol level or screening for Type 2 diabetes.
  • Only 5 percent of pediatricians in the study recommended that obese children decrease their amount of television viewing.

"There is mounting evidence regarding the importance of early intervention in preventing lifelong obesity, which is why it is so important that it is recognized and treated appropriately in the primary care setting," said Sarah O'Brien, MD, a Children's pediatrician and lead investigator on the study. "As a result of our study, Children's now records the body mass index of all children seen in our Primary Care Center for well-child visits, which allows us to begin appropriate treatment early on."

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure which shows an individual's weight proportional to his or her height. BMI assists physicians in determining whether a child is underweight, obese or at risk for obesity. BMI for children is gender and age-specific because children's body fat changes as they grow and because girls and boys differ in body fat as they mature. Children are considered at risk of becoming obese if their BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentile for their age and gender. Children are considered obese if their BMI is in the 95th percentile or greater.

The prevalence of obesity among children has doubled in the past two decades in the United States. Fifteen percent of 6- to 19-year-olds are at or above the 95th percentile for BMI. Recent data also indicate that children younger than 5 years old have had significant increases in the prevalence of obesity. Children today are less physically active than were previous generations, Dr. O'Brien said, primarily due to more time spent watching television and using computers. Less active children are more likely to be overweight and to have higher blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol concentrations and more abnormal lipid profiles.

Marc Lukasiak or Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5016

Last Update
February 19, 2008
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Last Update
February 19, 2008