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DANVILLE, PA – Parents of elementary school children who received body mass index (BMI) screening results together with educational material were significantly more likely to say they would change at least one obesity-related risk factor, compared with parents who received only the BMI measure.

In a new study led by Geisinger Health System researcher Lisa Bailey-Davis, D.Ed,. and published Feb. 8 in the peer-reviewed journal, Childhood Obesity, researchers found that parental education may be the key to improving the utility of school-based BMI screening – a practice that has been controversial and, so far, ineffective at reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.

Researchers from Geisinger, Iowa State University and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga analyzed nearly 1,500 parental surveys from 31 Pennsylvania elementary schools in the study.

“Parental education can enhance the impact of BMI results and parental intention to modify obesity-related risk factors,” Dr. Bailey-Davis said. “The education material prompted parents of overweight and obese children to seek clinical care and limit sugar-sweetened drinks.”

Dramatic increases in the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity have been well documented and well publicized. Prevalence estimates indicate that over 17 percent of American youth are obese, but very few parents identify their own children as having an elevated weight status. As few as 2 percent of parents with overweight children and 17 percent of parents with obese children describe their children as being overweight.

Compared to simply sending home a BMI report card, schools which included education materials containing information about what parents can do to help prevent or reduce overweight and obesity were found to be more effective, according to the new study.

School health screenings are intended to raise awareness of health risks so that parents can follow up with their child’s primary care provider. Parents, however, benefited most when they understood what changes to make at home and how to go about making these changes, Dr. Bailey-Davis said.

All public schools in Pennsylvania, and in many other states, implement BMI screenings and schools could enhance this policy with evidence-based educational material to better help parents.

The study was supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.

About Geisinger
Geisinger is committed to making better health easier for the more than 1 million people it serves. Founded more than 100 years ago by Abigail Geisinger, the system now includes 10 hospital campuses, a health plan with more than half a million members, a research institute and the Geisinger College of Health Sciences, which includes schools of medicine, nursing and graduate education. With more than 25,000 employees and 1,700+ employed physicians, Geisinger boosts its hometown economies in Pennsylvania by billions of dollars annually. Learn more at or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Dr. Lisa Bailey-Davis