Over 800 families across the South Island have been invited to take part in a study evaluating the South Island’s response to the Government’s health target – the B4 School Check (B4SC) referral initiative. The ‘Kids BMI Study’ commenced in November and will track the progress a year after pre-schoolers are found to have a BMI in the obese range at their B4SC.
The B4SC referral initiative is part of the Ministry of Health’s Childhood Obesity Plan with the target that 95% of children with a BMI in the obese range be offered a referral to a health professional for clinical assessment and family based nutrition, activity and lifestyle interventions. Barry Taylor, Professor of Paediatrics and Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, is the primary investigator of the Kids BMI Study. He is supported by University of Otago PhD student, Dr Gloria Dainty.
The study aims to identify any gaps in service delivery, any negative effects, and to ensure the support programmes being delivered are the most suitable for four-year-olds – particularly for those most at risk, says Barry. “We are hoping to learn what the outcomes are for the initiative. Has the process of identifying overweight children in the B4SC led to improvement one year on? Or not? And if it was successful, was it dependent on which programme or who the child was referred to?” There are also questions around socio economic status and ethnicity, he says. “Does this approach work across all of these groups? We want to find out if any effect is dependent on these factors – not everything suits everybody.”
The families of any child in the South Island found to have a BMI in the obese range at their B4SC between October 2017 and September 2018 will be invited to participate in the study (an estimated 820 children). Along with an assessment of height, weight and involvement in support programmes, the study will also look at quality of life, Barry says. “It’s not just about body size outcomes. If you have lost weight but quality of life isn’t good, then it’s not successful.“We know there is some uncertainty around identifying a four-year-old as being obese and the message that is sent to parents. How parents interpret and react to that message can have a huge effect on their child’s health. The best intentions don’t always lead to the best solutions.” He says the study will be undertaken over a year and the results will be used to inform workflow and make improvements across the sector. “We must be active in not just starting programmes, but evaluating them and even stopping them if they’re not working.”
The Kids BMI Study is approved by the Health and Disability Ethics Committee.