Introduction Body mass index (BMI) is the pragmatic measure to assess children's obesity clinically and BMI charts are widely used for counselling families about children's weight management over time.
Aims To explore the variability in clinicians' interpretation of BMI patterns and to ascertain the diagnostic accuracy of their judgement by relating it to change in body composition by dual-emission x-ray absorptiometry (DXA).
Methods Data from 70 children who participated in a trial of a weight management programme for obese children were analysed. BMI was plotted on UK 1990 charts at baseline, 6 months and 12 months, and four clinicians experienced in obesity management independently scored the charts on a five-point scale for how successful children were in tackling their obesity over a 6-month period. Scores were compared with change in BMI, fat mass and lean mass z-scores as measured by DXA.
Results 54 children (aged 8–15 years; BMI z-score 2.93 (SD 0.48)) had simultaneous BMI and DXA scans performed, giving 104 pairs of measurements 6 months apart. There was good consistency between clinicians' scores for weight management and these related well to change in BMI and fat mass z-scores, but not lean mass z-score. They reported that measurement proximity to centile lines and crossing of lines influenced their confidence in making a decision and change in severe obesity was harder to judge as higher centile lines are so far apart.
Conclusions BMI charts are useful for assessing children's attempts at weight management, and provide a reasonably accurate indication of change in body fat. Recommendations are made regarding BMI chart design and guidance in interpreting measurements.
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