Despite a rise in media campaigns spreading awareness about weight problems among kids, doctors are not properly diagnosing obesity in children, according to a study.
Researchers at The MetroHealth System and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland say that only one-third of overweight or obese children actually receive that diagnosis by a paediatrician.
Writing about their findings in the journal Pediatrics, they also stress that this failure to diagnose appears to mostly impact children who may most greatly benefit from early intervention.
The researchers used electronic medical records (EMR) to review BMI measurements recorded for 60,711 2-18 year olds, who had at least one well-child visit between June 1999 and October 2007 at MetroHealth.
They say that the BMI measurement showed that 19 per cent of the children were overweight, 23 per cent obese, and eight per cent severely obese.
The research team found that increasing BMI percentile increased the likelihood of a diagnosis.
While 76 per cent of severely obese children and 54 per cent of obese children were diagnosed, just 10 per cent of overweight patients received a proper diagnosis.
"Despite having set paediatric BMI guidelines, this is a bit of a wake-up call to paediatricians that as many as 90 per cent of overweight children are not being properly diagnosed," said David C. Kaelber, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study, as well as an internist and pediatrician and chief informatics officer at MetroHealth and assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
"Better identification of this group of children who have just crossed into the 'unhealthy' weight category is essential for early intervention which will hopefully prevent not only a childhood of increased health problems, but also what now often becomes an ongoing battle through adulthood with life-long issues," he added.
The researchers-including experts from the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston-also observed that though the percentage of patients whose condition was diagnosed increased steadily over the study period until 2005, the diagnosis rate plateaued in 2006 and 2007.
According to them, that suggested that the impact of publicity regarding weight problems might be reaching its peak.
They pointed out that despite adding an abnormal BMI flag in the EMR system from 2004-2007, there was no evidence of increased diagnosis in that time period.
"While early and accurate diagnosis of paediatric weight issues is an essential first step in identifying the problem, we must also look at possible solutions.
For example, as the role of EMR grows, new methods such as automatic electronic alerts being sent to paediatricians and parents about a child's weight status and automatic referrals to special paediatric weight-management programs are some innovative ideas in using technology to help improve our children's health," says Dr. Kaelber.