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In American journal of preventive medicine ; h5-index 75.0

INTRODUCTION : Childhood obesity continues to be a significant public health issue in the U.S. and is associated with short- and long-term adverse health outcomes. A number of states have implemented school-based BMI screening programs. However, these programs have been criticized for not being effective in improving students' BMI or reducing childhood obesity. One potential benefit, however, of screening programs is the identification of younger children at risk of obesity as they age.

METHODS : This study used a unique panel data set from the BMI screening program for public school children in the state of Arkansas collected from 2003 to 2004 through the 2018-2019 academic years and analyzed in 2020. Machine learning algorithms were applied to understand the informational value of BMI screening. Specifically, this study evaluated the importance of BMI information during kindergarten to the accurate prediction of childhood obesity by the 4th grade.

RESULTS : Kindergarten BMI z-score is the most important predictor of obesity by the 4th grade and is much more important to prediction than sociodemographic and socioeconomic variables that would otherwise be available to policymakers in the absence of the screening program. Including the kindergarten BMI z-score of students in the model meaningfully increases the accuracy of the prediction.

CONCLUSIONS : Data from the Arkansas BMI screening program greatly improve the ability to identify children at greatest risk of future obesity to the extent that better prediction can be translated into more effective policy and better health outcomes. This is a heretofore unexamined benefit of school-based BMI screening.

Zare Samane, Thomsen Michael R, Nayga Rodolfo M, Goudie Anthony

2021-Jan-19