AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
AHRQ's Role in Combating Obesity
Obesity is common among young people in the United States. Seventeen percent of children and teenagers between the ages of 2 and 19 years are obese. The condition can cause asthma, high blood pressure, and mental health problems. Sadly, children with obesity are often bullied. And as they grow older, their problems with weight may lead to adult obesity and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
It's no wonder that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, M.D., has identified childhood obesity as one of the Nation's most pressing public health challenges.
AHRQ's role is to provide evidence and resources to help doctors, nurses, other health professionals, and policymakers in addressing the challenges of childhood obesity. Some ways that AHRQ accomplishes this is by developing new evidence, conducting research, and developing data and measures that will help policymakers track how health care is improving and where more research is needed.
Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published a recommendation statement encouraging health providers to screen for obesity in children and teenagers. The way to screen for obesity is by assessing BMI, or body mass index. BMI is calculated from a child's height and weight and is plotted on a growth chart. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for a child's age and sex.
The Task Force recommended that clinicians screen for obesity in children and teenagers 6 years and older while offering or referring them to comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions to promote improvements in weight status. Intensive interventions involved 52 or more hours of families working with a multidisciplinary team of health professionals. Successful programs often included information about a healthy diet, safe exercising, and reading food labels; advice and strategies for limiting children's access to tempting foods and limiting screen time; goal setting; self-monitoring; rewards; problem solving; and supervised physical activity sessions.
The Task Force's recommendation, published in JAMA, noted that comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions in children and teenagers 6 years and older who have obesity can improve weight status for up to 12 months.
The obesity recommendation was based on a comprehensive evidence review developed by one of AHRQ's Evidence-Based Practice Centers (EPCs). EPCs are central to the Agency's ongoing commitment to developing evidence. AHRQ-supported researchers will continue to conduct research on how to make health care better and safer by looking at issues such as medical costs of childhood obesity and physician counseling on healthy eating and exercise.
Another example of AHRQ's efforts focused on childhood obesity is The Pediatric Quality Measures Program (PQMP), which has developed new measures to help evaluate and improve health care quality for children. A number of PQMP measures focus on addressing the issue of childhood obesity, including measures that assess BMI of pregnant women, follow-up visits for children who are obese with weight-related comorbidities and doctors discussing weight concerns with children and their parents. AHRQ's National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report tracks measures such as whether health care providers gave advice about exercise or healthy eating to children and their families.
AHRQ will continue its efforts to address the Nation's childhood obesity challenge. We look forward to collaborating with sister agencies through efforts such as the HHS Healthy Weight, Nutrition and Physical Activity Work Group, which seeks to improve nutrition and increase physical activity, and the Health Resources and Services Administration's Hot Topics in Health Care for Youth webinar series events.
These efforts also underscore the Agency's commitment to confronting one of the Nation's most urgent health problems. Through continued research and collaboration with Federal agencies and other partners, I'm convinced AHRQ can help to continue to reverse the tide.
Dr. Mabry-Hernandez is the senior advisor of childhood obesity initiatives at AHRQ.