Health Team

Study: Color-coded system helped parents understand BMI

A recent study by a UNC pediatrician found parents could better understand the Body Mass Index when presented in a simple color-coded system.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A color-coded system helped parents participating in a recent study better understand Body Mass Index and whether their children are considered obese, according to a report published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Pediatric Association.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 19 are obese, meaning they are more likely to develop health problems often associated with the disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and joint pain.

Studies have also shown that children who are overweight are more likely to be obese as adults.

Doctors use the Body Mass Index – or BMI – to define obesity. The BMI – based on a number of factors, including age, height weight and gender – provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight problems that might lead to health problems.

The study, by a team of researchers, including UNC School of Medicine's pediatrician Dr. Eliana Perrin, found that the BMI scale can be confusing for parents.

"It's still tough for parents to understand when their children are overweight, and they're looking at a complicated chart," Perrin said.

The color-coded system uses the colors of a traffic signal.

"What we did was make the zone that's healthy green – like 'good to go,'" Perrin said.

Yellow indicates a child is at risk, while red indicates obesity.

According to the study's results, 60 percent of parents reported knowing what BMI was but only 30 percent could define it correctly.

When parents used the color-coded charts, parents were four times as likely to answer the same questions about the BMI scale correctly.

When parents of young children understand about obesity, Perrin said, they are more likely to make healthy changes that will last a lifetime.

To help combat obesity, doctors recommend that parents pay close attention to the their children's eating habits and to keep them away from high-fat, high-sugar foods and drinks Healthy snacks, such as carrot sticks, apple slices and raisins, as well as an active lifestyle, can help fight obesity.