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Simply put, BMI is a calculation of a person’s weight in relation to her height.
In order to find your child’s BMI percentile, a clinician calculates her BMI and plots that number on a chart for her age and gender. The clinician uses separate charts for boys and girls that take into account their natural differences in body fat. Your child’s resulting BMI percentile corresponds to one of the following categories:
Some clinicians now consider a child with a BMI at or above the 99th percentile to be morbidly obese. However, the government does not currently recognize this category.
This depends on a number of factors, including your child’s age and gender. The general guideline is that a child typically gains about three to five pounds with every inch she grows.
There are several tools your doctor might use to determine if your child is at risk for obesity, including:
The easiest way to calculate your child’s BMI percentile is to use a BMI calculator on the Internet.
We use BMI percentiles in children because they're still growing and developing, and the relationship among their height, weight and body fat changes as they grow. For example, girls going through puberty have more body fat than girls who haven't yet reached puberty. Generally speaking, the BMI percentile chart accounts for these kinds of changes.
Many states, including Massachusetts, now require public schools to screen for BMI and alert parents to the result via a BMI report card. These reports cards are meant to let parents know if their child is clinically overweight and at risk for weight-related medical problems.
If your child's BMI report card tells you that your child is overweight or obese, discuss the results with your child’s pediatrician, who can help you to identify resources or programs, such as Boston Children’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program, which can help.
Yes. BMI doesn’t account for muscle mass, so a child with excess muscle mass might fall into an overweight or obese category, but it’s rare. Secondly, BMI doesn't provide any information about fat distribution, which correlates with risk for heart disease. A child with central adiposity (fat distributed primarily around the abdomen) has a greater risk for heart disease than a child with fat distributed primarily around the hips. A waist-to-hip ratio is used to measure body fat distribution.
There are many steps you can take as a parent to help your child achieve a healthy BMI:
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