September 14, 2011 / 6:35 PM / in 6 years

In health push, Michigan to track childhood obesity

(Reuters) - Michigan’s Republican governor said on Wednesday he will ask doctors to report the body fat levels of children under the age of 18 to a government registry in a bid to fight rampant obesity.

News of the proposed registry, which would be similar to existing state clearinghouses used to track cancer, HIV and other diseases, was welcomed by obesity researchers, who said the mandatory nature of the reporting by doctors would make it unique in the fight against obesity.

Governor Rick Snyder said physicians will now be asked to include information on the so-called body mass index of patients under 18 years of age to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, a database set up in 1998 to track the immunization records of state residents.

BMI is basically a height-to-weight ratio that doctors use to measure obesity, a condition that raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various cancers and hypertension, among other things.

Obesity is fast replacing tobacco as the single most important preventable cause of chronic non-communicable diseases, according to recent study by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

It is expected to add an extra 7.8 million cases of diabetes, 6.8 million cases of heart disease and stroke, and 539,000 cases of cancer in the United States by 2030, the study said.

Snyder outlined his health-related push, including a proposal to ban tobacco at all the state’s beaches, in a special message to the state legislature.

He said that 67 percent of Michigan adults were overweight or obese -- and that the problem was taking its toll on the state’s finances.

The Columbia study estimated that, unchecked, obesity would add an additional $66 billion to U.S. healthcare costs annually.

Christine Ferguson, the director of the STOP Obesity Alliance at George Washington University and a former commissioner for public health in Massachusetts, called Snyder’s proposal “a great idea.”

“Registries are a really useful way of aggregating data on a population and really drilling down into it and finding out where the big problem areas are,” she said.

Meagan Dorsch, a spokeswoman at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said efforts to gather information on obesity at the state level were “not without precedent.” But she said she was not sure if any other state had made it a required part of a doctor’s visit and then placed the information on the state’s immunization database.

Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune

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