Knowing BMI would influence lifestyle change in 9 out of 10 Young People!

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87% of young people say that regular monitoring of their growth using BMI (Body Mass Index) centiles would help them to make more informed choices surrounding diet and lifestyle, a recent Manchester based study of over 1000 young people has found.

In addition, approximately 3 out of 4 young people said that they would be interested in knowing how their height (78%) and weight (71%) changes over time.

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The study, delivered by Social Sense in partnership with the University of Salford, was commissioned by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) and supported by Health Education England (North West) as part of a pioneering new consultation to determine the preferred approaches to growth measurement during teenage and adolescent years.

Alongside young people, the research sought the views of parents, health practitioners, education professionals and organisational leadership, gathering both quantitative and qualitative information.

Currently, the standard practice in the UK is measuring children’s height and weight only at 4 years and 11 years of age as part of The National Child Measurement Programme, which many feel does not provide sufficient data to understand a child’s growth as an indicator of healthy development, or identify potential health risks.

MFT have been addressing this through their pioneering CHAMP (Children’s Health and Monitoring Programme) programme. This includes the CHAMP website which invites parents to track the growth of their primary school aged children annually and to proactively engage in the different levels of support available. CHAMP receives measurements for 45,000 children each year and the service has in excess of 18,000 registered parents.

Beyond the age of 11, there are no clear guidelines across the UK regarding how parents of young people are to be consulted around healthy growth through teenage years or even when communication should begin to take place with young people directly.

This consultation has shown that young people are ready to receive trustworthy health information and that they see tailored feedback as an opportunity for them to work alongside their parents in order to take responsibility for their own health.

Dr Michaela Rogers, from the University of Salford, noted how “this consultation clearly indicates that young people want more control and autonomy, and feel that having personal information about their growth would enable them to make informed choices about lifestyle, or eating differently. The responses from young people were pragmatic and indicated high levels of maturity in terms of how they envisioned themselves as using this information. It was mostly the practitioners who articulated concerns about potentially negative consequences but, overwhelmingly, the data collected from the biggest sample (of young people) suggested the opposite. Good practice includes listening to the voice of young people and this is key to engaging young people in healthy lifestyles and positive decision-making in terms of making a long-term impact.

Social Sense CEO Gary Lovatt believes the research should provide professionals with reassurance that the benefits of proactive and direct engagement with young people on this subject can far outweigh the risks.

Across all our work we are seeing a young population that is now more socially aware and informed than ever before. This research tells us that they are ready for information that can help them make informed choices affecting their diet and lifestyle. I firmly believe we should put our faith in the process – supported by parents and professionals – of creating more direct modes of engagement on this subject. Embracing technology and taking a more positive and proactive approach could lead to incredible savings to our NHS and much longer, healthier lives lived as a result.”

Sarah Vince Cain, Clinical Programme Manager – CHAMP, MFT says “A child’s growth pattern is a fundamental indicator of health and well-being and therefore it is important that we give young people the tools to understand their own growth and the support to make positive choices. This consultation illustrates the great knowledge that young people have around what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and just how engaged they would like to be in their personal health.’’

For more information on the growth management consultation can be found here.

By Reece Hobson.

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