Parents Don’t Believe BMI Tests or Doctors Who Say Kids Are Fat

More than half of parents who receive their child’s BMI report card don’t trust it, study finds.

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Doctors can’t convince parents that their kids are obese, according to a new study of 109 moms and dads. Fifty-three percent of parents refused to believe their children’s BMI report cards accurately reflected their weights — whether their BMIs were overweight, underweight, or normal. And a mere 13 percent of parents whose children were deemed overweight by BMI report cards were galvanized into changing their diets or activity habits. The rest were decidedly unmoved.

Parents who receive BMI report cards “may not accurately interpret the information they receive,” according to the study. “As more children and adolescents in the United States become overweight, fewer parents may recognize their child as being overweight or obese.”

Despite lingering concerns that body mass index, or BMI, is not always a robust measure of health, physicians tend to agree that every child should have his or her BMI assessed each year. BMI describes a child’s height-to-weight ratio, and children who fall between the 5th and 85th percentile are considered to be at a “healthy weight”. Because BMI is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive indicator of an unhealthy weight, 25 states currently require public schools to monitor BMI and send regular BMI report cards home to parents. From there, health care professionals hope parents will take the lead and help their children reduce risky behaviors.

Alas, that’s not how things usually go. Parents are notoriously slow on the uptake when it comes to identifying their children’s weight problems. One study demonstrated that 86 percent of mothers with obese children do not even consider their kids overweight. So the new findings, which illustrate how BMI report cards fall on deaf ears, aren’t particularly surprising.

But they’re disappointing. And the results are just another reason why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain unconvinced that school-based BMI assessments help reduce obesity. Part of the problem, the authors write, is that parents suspect their overweight children will grow out of it. “Pediatricians, school nurses, and physical educators should be prepared to help parents recognize when their child is overweight and to understand that obese children have a 70% higher chance of becoming an obese adult,” the authors write.

“Schools are a critical link in improving the health of children through programs such as BMI health reports. However, if schools take on the responsibility of sharing BMI report cards with parents, they must also be willing to provide some support and act as a resource for parents.”

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