- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) - Chances are you know your blood pressure. What about your BMI?

Body mass index signals if you’re overweight, obese or just right considering your height. Some doctors have begun calling it a vital sign, as crucial to monitor as blood pressure.

But apparently not enough doctors check: A government panel renewed a call Monday for every adult to be screened for obesity during checkups, suggesting more physicians should be routinely calculating their patients’ BMIs.

And when someone crosses the line into obesity, the doctor needs to do more than mention a diet. It’s time to refer those patients for intensive nutrition-and-fitness help, say the guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.


Don’t assume your weight’s OK if the doctor doesn’t bring it up.

Patients “should be asking what their BMI is, and tracking that over time,” says task force member Dr. David Grossman, medical director for preventive care at the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.

By the numbers: A normal BMI is less than 25. Obesity begins at 30. In between is considered overweight. To calculate yours: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.

The advice sounds like a no-brainer, considering the national anxiety about our growing waistlines. Two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Some 17 percent of children and teens are obese, on the road to diabetes, heart disease and other ailments before they’re even grown.

The task force has recommended adult obesity screening previously, and similar guidelines urge tracking whether youngsters are putting on too many pounds.

Yet BMI remains a mystery for many people. A 2010 survey of members of the American Academy of Family Physicians found up to 40 percent of those primary care doctors were computing their patients’ BMIs. Surveys show only about a third of obese patients recall their doctor counseling them about weight loss, even though people whose doctors discuss the problem are more likely to do something about it.

Doctors can struggle with the pounds, too, and Johns Hopkins University researchers recently reported that overweight physicians were less likely than skinnier ones to advise their patients about weight loss.

Why the reluctance? One reason: Few doctors are trained to treat obesity, they’re discouraged by yo-yo dieting but they don’t know what to advise, says Dr. Glen Stream, president of the physicians’ group. His Spokane, Wash., practice uses electronic medical records that automatically calculate BMI when a patient’s height and weight is entered.

“Our American culture is always looking for an easy fix, a pill for every problem,” Stream says. “The updated recommendation is important because it makes clear exactly what doctors should do to help.”

In Monday’s Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force concluded high-intensity behavioral interventions are the best non-surgical advice for the obese, citing insufficient evidence about lasting effects from weight-loss medications.

The task force’s Grossman says a good program:

Story Continues →