As children across the commonwealth embark on another school year, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is providing schools with a revised body mass index (BMI) screening letter developed and tested by Penn State Hershey PRO Wellness Center. The department's website links to the letter as a suggested template for school districts statewide.
The individualized screening letter includes graphics and an explanation of health risks and specific actions that parents could take based on their child's BMI, leading them to tools and resources for making healthy lifestyle changes for their families.
“We are pleased that our research project, involving feedback from parents, has led to a letter that will help inform parents of resources for helping their child reach or maintain a healthy weight,” said Donna Kephart, executive director of the PRO Wellness Center.
In research funded by the Highmark Foundation and conducted by the PRO Wellness Center, the revised letter drew a favorable reaction from parents. Among parents of overweight or obese children, more recipients of the revised letter intended to take action based on information it contained when compared to those receiving the standard letter (68 percent vs. 45 percent). In addition, parents who received the revised as compared to the standard letter were more likely to read the entire letter.
“We are pleased to help shape school wellness policy by providing this letter to the Commonwealth,” said Donna Kephart, executive director of the PRO Wellness Center.
The letter is also featured on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Healthy Schools website.
Childhood obesity has become a critical health epidemic, affecting 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States. In 2013, Pennsylvania was named the 20th most obese state, with 33 percent of school students either overweight or obese. Given the significant amount of time children spend in school, school-based behavioral interventions are necessary in the fight against childhood obesity.
Students in Pennsylvania get weighed and measured to determine their BMI as a part of state-mandated annual health screenings in schools. Assessing BMI is a quick and simple screening method that can serve as a measure of body fat.
Although BMI screening and notification programs hold promise of addressing a serious issue, school-based interventions have been unsuccessful at reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity. This is believed to be due to the lack of follow-up with appropriate nutritional education programming for children who screen positive as overweight or obese.
To address this gap, Penn State Hershey PRO Wellness Center is developing a screening toolkit for addressing children who screen overweight or obese. Resources included in this kit will better prepare practitioners to:
- discuss BMI with their students/patients;
- address familial barriers to healthy behavior change;
- determine a protocol for following up with students/patients over time; and
- discuss current trends in obesity prevention.
Also, kits will help parents to:
- improve their knowledge of healthy eating and active living behaviors;
- learn strategies to reduce the BMI of their child;
- learn to create a healthy environment at home; and
- reinforce healthy behavior messages for overweight/obese children.
To learn more about the Center's research and to access this letter, visit www.pennstatehershey.org/BMIcheck.
If you're having trouble accessing this content, or would like it in another format, please email Penn State Health Marketing & Communications.