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Overweight and obese kids: Are enough being diagnosed?

December 29, 2008 |  2:41 pm

Parents aren’t always aware (or acknowledge) that their children and teens are overweight or obese. It often falls to doctors to correctly diagnose those children, and, in the best-case scenario, give them guidance for a weight-loss program.

But are physicians doing a good enough job at identifying which kids are too heavy? Maybe not, says a new study that reveals diagnoses may be falling short.

Researchers examined medical records from 60,711 patients age 2 to 18 who had at least one well-child visit between 1999 and 2007. Going by body mass index scores, 19% were considered overweight, 23% obese, and 8% (or 33% of the obese patients) severely obese.

However, among all overweight and obese patients, only 34% were diagnosed as such. Breaking it down, among the overweight children, only 10% received that diagnosis, while 54% of obese kids and 76% of severely obese kids were identified that way. Also, girls were more likely to be diagnosed than boys, while Latino and African American children were more likely than whites to be diagnosed. Results were published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers make the point that diagnosing and helping children before they become obese may be the best plan, but study results show that few overweight children may be identified as having a problem.

"As with any chronic disease," the study authors wrote, "early diagnosis of overweight and obesity is likely to be an important step toward reducing morbidity, mortality, and health care."

-Jeannine Stein