So what’s up with this obesity calculator?

When parents gaze into their eyes of their newborn children, millions of questions pop into their heads: Who is this child? What will he be like? Will she be smart? Will he be funny?

Parents likely don’t immediately wonder if their little bundle of joy will mature into one of the 12.5 million American children aged 2 to 19 who are obese. But overweight and obesity among young children has become a major issue in recent years.
Thus, when reports surfaced recently of an obesity calculator that could predict a child’s chance of becoming obese, eyebrows were raised.

According to an article published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed the 1986 Northern Finland Birth Cohort, which tracks more than 4,000 people born in 1986m to come up with a predictive equation for childhood and adolescent obesity, using traditonal risk factors, such as parental body mass index. BMI, which is calculated using height and weight, is often used as a barometer for measuring obesity. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight and a BMI over 30 is obese.

The researchers also looked at a cohort of more than 1,500 Italian children and one of more than 1,000 American children.

From that, they came up with the calculator, which asks the user to enter the parents’ body mass indexes, the number of members of the household, information on whether the mother smoked during pregnancy, the kind of work the mother does and the child’s birth weight. The calculator then spits out the child’s likelihood of being obese.

It’s a nifty idea, but how accurate is it? Karen Novak, outpatient nutrition educator at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, is skeptical. “There are so many factors of childhood obesity,” Novak said. These include exercise, the types of food they eat and other things not included on the calculator.

Novak said she doesn’t work with the pediatric population and doesn’t have experience with this calculator, but she did say that early prevention of obesity is a major worry of many in the medical community. Still, there is concern that people would rely too heavily on the calculator, when there are other issues affecting obesity that parents should worry about, such as whether their kids are too sedentary, or the fact that they’re growing up in a food-glutted culture.

But Andrea Valenti, clinical nutrition manager at Bridgeport Hospital, is a little more optimistic about the possible merits of the calculator. “There might be some validity to this,” she said. “Certainly, if parents have a higher BMI, (the child is) probably going to continue that.”

Valenti said the hospital has long been interested in curbing childhood obesity as early as possible, and recently started a nutrition class for new mothers. Like Novak, Valenti did cite lifestyle as big factor in obesity. People don’t have time to cook anymore or exercise as much as they used to, Valenti said. “People are trying to fit too much into their lives.”

What do you think? Is an obesity calculator a good idea? Leave your comments below.

Amanda Cuda