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Study Suggests Making PA School BMI Reports Effective

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DANVILLE, MONTOUR COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — It’s no secret. The number of overweight children in the U.S. is at epidemic proportions. One in three American kids is overweight or obese. Now, a new study unlocks a key that could help reverse that trend.

Part of that key has been considered a bit controversial: a body mass index report conducted by Pennsylvania public schools. But a new study led by a Geisinger Health System researcher finds it could be effective by adding a missing component.

For a decade now, students in Pennsylvania public schools receive a report called a Body Mass Index or BMI for short. The weight to height ratio measured at school is used as an indicator of a child being overweight or underweight. And what do most parents do with that information? “Probably throw it away. I would say,” said Lindsey Pesta of Pittston, Her 16-year-old daughter Lauren attends public school. Mrs. Pesta is critical of that BMI information. “It shows a kid being a certain height and weight that is overweight and the child isn’t, you know, and it’s not good for their self-esteem either.”

“I don’t think it’s effective. No, it doesn’t seem to be,” said Geisinger Health System Researcher Lisa Bailey-Davis, D.ED.  She says that perceived ineffectiveness led her to conduct a study recently published in the journal ‘Childhood Obesity’. “Just raising awareness was not thought to be enough,” she said.

Using 1,500 parental surveys from 31 Pennsylvania elementary schools, the study determined what lacked in helping more kids achieve a healthy weight was arming parents with educational tools like the website Family Nutrition and Physical Activity. And just how effective is it when parents are armed with that education? Dr. Bailey-Davis says we’re already seeing positive changes.

The study allowed for one contact with children’s parents suggesting changes in their child’s behavior from diet to sleep patterns to seeing the doctor. “We saw signals in those directions so that’s with just one exposure to the intervention,” said Dr. Bailey-Davis.

She says real progress for a real problem will take a coordinated effort to achieve the healthy change that so many kids need. “I’m very optimistic, yeah, highly optimistic.”

The study was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant. Click here to learn more about the childhood obesity study and click here to check out a tool to help your child develop healthy lifestyle habits.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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