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Schools switch to BMI to identify overweight pupils

30-Jul-2010 (Fri) The Straits Times

By Leow Si Wan

SCHOOLS in Singapore have switched to using the Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement to identify students who are overweight.

This system replaces the weight- for-height charts which schools have been using for many years to find out if a child falls within an acceptable weight range for a particular height.

The new charts are a better gauge of a child's growth as they also take into account the child's age and provide an estimation of body fat in children, said the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which released the new charts to the media yesterday.

Taking age into account, the board said, is an important factor in gauging the growth of a child because the amount of body fat in children changes according to different stages of their development.

Puberty, for instance, could bring about accelerated growth and increased muscle mass.

HPB's deputy director of youth health division Wong Mun Loke said the BMI-for-age charts provide a more meaningful and complete picture of a child's weight and height by comparing him or her to others of the same age and gender.

Apart from providing comparisons to a child's peers, the BMI - which is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilogrammes by the square of his or her height in metres - can provide an estimation of the body fat in a child.

A senior consultant of the University Children's Medical Institute at the National University Hospital, Associate Professor Lee Yung Seng, agreed, saying: 'BMI-for-age correlates with risk factors for cardiovascular diseases including high lipid levels...and high blood pressure.'

This means that the new charts can help to flag certain risk factors in children that can lead to chronic diseases when they reach adulthood.

The new charts were compiled from a random study of 15,000 students' weight and drawn up by a panel of experts comprising medical professionals and public health-care officials over eight years.

Meanwhile, schools are all ready to use these BMI-for-age charts.

The Education Ministry said school leaders and health education staff have been briefed about how the new measurement works, and they started using the new charts when school reopened earlier this month after the mid-year vacation.

The HPB has started to distribute resources such as information booklets to students in schools to explain how to read the charts.

Industry professionals said the new charts should be an improvement over the height-and-weight ones, although the BMI is not a perfect index either.

General practitioner Kevin Chua said: 'The BMI does not take into account, for instance, genetics and how it affects a person's weight.'

Nutrition consultant Louisa Zhang added: 'There is no perfect measurement tool, but in my opinion, BMI is the best we have got so far.

'By virtue of the fact that these charts include new parameters, there should be an improvement. Of course, they must still be tried and tested.'

Parents who are keen to look at the new charts can visit www.knowyourbmi.sg/children.


NO PERFECT TOOL

'There is no perfect measurement tool, but in my opinion, BMI is the best we have got so far. By virtue of the fact that these charts include new parameters, there should be an improvement. Of course, they must still be tried and tested.'

Nutrition consultant Louisa Zhang, about the new charts that take into account a child's age