March 2, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A report published today in the journal Health Affairs calls for increased body mass index surveillance as a tool to combat the childhood obesity epidemic and urges state and federal action to implement effective BMI surveillance systems nationwide. The paper was co-authored by Altarum Institute researchers Matt Longjohn and Amy Sheon, co-project directors of Altarum’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Mission Project, and by childhood obesity experts from Arkansas, California, and Illinois.
BMI – a measure derived from height and weight – is widely used to screen children for obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity prevention initiative Let’s Move partners with the American Academy of Pediatrics to promote the regular screening of all children for obesity using BMI. Because the prevalence of obesity varies dramatically in different communities and for different demographic groups, it’s crucial to have better data to monitor trends. Such monitoring can enable states to know where to target resources.
Longjohn and Sheon’s paper notes that approximately 30 states are seeking ways to address the dearth of data that is hampering efforts to tackle the epidemic, including many trying to follow the model developed successfully in Arkansas where children are screened for obesity in schools. A new model of BMI surveillance is being developed in Michigan and in San Diego County, Calif. where BMI data routinely collected by health care providers is fed into existing electronic state health immunization registry systems.
Longjohn and Sheon have concluded that there are compelling reasons to invest in the registry-based BMI surveillance system. “By merely adding two data points to an existing system, states have a ready-made way to track the obesity epidemic,” Sheon noted.
Longjohn added, “The advantage of the registry-based clinical model is that it focuses on the youngest children – where we have the best chance of preventing obesity from developing in the first place. The clinical model also reminds providers to screen children and how to counsel them and their families according to established standards.”
Longjohn and Sheon concluded that federal policy action is needed to support expanding data collection efforts in all states, including changes in privacy laws to promote data sharing between schools or clinics and public health officials, and better data standards to ensure that information collected at the state level could be combined for national-level analysis. The paper also notes that in late 2009 two bills were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide grants to help expand state level registry-based BMI surveillance.
“Obesity-related diseases place an enormous and increasing burden on our health care system,” said Sheon. “While no silver bullet, BMI surveillance systems built on registries can be a cost-effective tool for tracking childhood obesity rates and evaluating whether our prevention strategies are working. Policymakers should support their expansion.”
Paula Card-Higginson, Philip R. Nader, and Maryann Mason also contributed to the paper.
Contact InformationJeff Moore
Altarum Institute (www.altarum.org) integrates objective research and client-centered consulting skills to deliver comprehensive, systems-based solutions that improve health and health care. A nonprofit serving clients in the public and private sectors, Altarum employs more than 400 individuals and is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan with additional offices in the Washington, DC area; Sacramento, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Portland, Maine; and San Antonio, Texas.