April 30, 2007 / 4:38 PM / 12 years ago

Obesity screening for schoolchildren questioned

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Though routinely weighing schoolchildren may seem like a good way to fight childhood obesity, there’s no evidence that it actually works, according to British researchers.

Right now, many children periodically have their weight taken at school. In the UK, 4- to 5-year-olds and 10- to 11-year-olds are routinely weighed so that health officials can keep track of the nation’s obesity problem.

But more recently, some politicians have called for weighing all schoolchildren, and giving the results to their parents — along with lifestyle advice and referrals to health services, when appropriate.

If the new report is correct, however, there is little basis for doing so.

In a review of the medical literature, researchers commissioned by the UK’s National Health Service found that no clinical trials have been done on the effectiveness of routine weight screening in schools.

Indeed, even experts aren’t sure which strategies are widely effective for childhood obesity — and without proven treatments, mass screening makes little sense, according to the report, which is published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

“The main problem with screening to identify individual children with weight problems — as opposed to monitoring overweight and obesity in the general population — is that we are not able to offer interventions of proven effectiveness,” lead study author Dr. Marie Westwood of the University of York told Reuters Health.

Before health officials launch any widespread obesity screening program, they must first study the potential benefits and the possible harms, such as stigmatizing children with weight problems, Westwood and colleagues conclude.

Schools might be able to combat childhood obesity in other ways, such as promoting healthy eating and exercise, Westwood noted, although these tactics also lack proof of their effectiveness.

High-quality studies are needed to show that they work, she said.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood 2007.

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