Screening Program for Obesity Prevention in Children: A Promising Initiative

The Czech Republic is set to launch a groundbreaking screening program to prevent obesity in children. With the participation of the first thousand children under 11, this innovative program is expected to commence in the middle of next year, albeit half a year later than initially planned. However, the ambition extends beyond this initial phase, as the development of a nationwide screening program is underway, with the involvement of pediatric general practitioners.

The pilot project, approved for a thousand children, will begin in mid-2024. If successful, discussions will be held with insurance companies to expand the program to encompass a larger group of children with overweight issues, as stated by Petr Jehlička, the head of the working group and a pediatric cardiologist. Although the project encountered administrative and procurement delays, the necessary funding has been secured, and a National Screening Program for children’s obesity prevention has been endorsed by the Institute of Health Information and Statistics (ÚZIS). This program has the potential to impact up to 80,000 children.

The effectiveness of the pilot phase will be crucial. Medical professionals aim to closely monitor the first thousand children for at least a year. Parents cannot actively enroll their children; instead, their pediatricians will identify suitable patients between the ages of 6 and 11 who are best positioned to assess their physical and mental suitability. One of the prerequisites for participation is that the children have only overweight conditions, not obesity.

To prevent these children from progressing to the challenging and difficult-to-treat stage of obesity, the project directs them to the organizers, who will provide them with unique smart bracelets. These bracelets will continuously monitor their daily physical activity and record it in a mobile application. In the evening, with the assistance of their parents, the children will record their daily food intake in the app as well. The application will motivate and encourage them to make healthy choices and engage in physical activity while also playfully encouraging them to change their behavior regarding unhealthy habits.

Efforts are also underway to involve parents as “co-players” in this journey. Hana Cabrnochová, the Association of General Practitioners for Children and Adolescents vice-chair, highlighted the positive competitive aspect, where parents can share information and participate. By influencing the parents’ approach to physical activity and diet, the chances of success for the children are significantly enhanced.

The selection of participating medical practices is yet to be determined. Some practitioners express concerns about increased parental inquiries about the bracelets. Consequently, establishing a helpline or website under the National Screening Center is being considered.

The technical aspects of the fitness bracelets and the mobile application are being assisted by scientists from the Czech Technical University (ČVUT), who are currently testing the technical parameters of the fitness bracelets for children and will continue to provide support in this area, as explained by Petr Jehlička.

Obesity remains a pressing global issue, particularly among children. While utilizing modern technologies shows promise, experts agree that additional avenues must be explored to counter its rapid progression effectively. In the Czech Republic alone, the number of obese children has more than doubled since 2006, with approximately one in ten children classified as overweight and over 16 percent obese, according to data from the Association of General Practitioners for Children and Adolescents in 2021. These statistics highlight the urgent need to address this issue to prevent future serious health problems.