“There is now a national recommendation to all pediatricians to register BMI (the body mass index) in four-year-olds,” Claude Marcus, the head of the national center for child obesity at Stockholm’s Karolinska Hospital, told AFP.
“The prognosis for children who are overweight is getting worse and worse. They’re having a harder time losing the weight once they gain it, so it’s important to identify the problem as early as possible,” he added.
In addition to registering Swedish four-year-olds’ height and weight development, pediatricians will be asked to survey their BMI, which measures the relative percentages of fat and muscle mass in the body by dividing weight in kilos by height in meters and which is considered the best index for obesity.
“In most children, weight problems won’t surface until later, but by checking four-year-olds we hope to find people who are especially at risk, who are genetically predisposed to become overweight,” Carl-Erik Flodmark, head physician at the child obesity center in Skaane in southern Sweden, told AFP.
The move to screen BMI in four-year-olds follows a slew of reports showing an increased incidence of Sweden’s traditionally healthy children being overweight or obese.
Two separate surveys of BMI in Stockholm’s seven-year-olds in 1989 and 2003, revealed for instance that the number of overweight children soared from eight to 21 percent.
“There has been an incredibly frightening development over the past 15 to 20 years. Obesity among children has increased at lightning speed,” Marcus said, adding that if the trend is not turned around “today’s children will be the first generation in modern times to have an expected lifespan that is shorter than that of their parents’ generation.”
Most developed countries have experienced similar increases in obesity among children.
“There is a global child obesity pandemic going on,” Marcus said.
In Sweden, where virtually all children regularly go for check-ups at state-run medical clinics and public school, there is meanwhile a good chance of curbing the problem if obesity screening begins early enough, Flodmark pointed out.
“The organization needed to do something about this is already in place,” he said.