The percentage of overweight children in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, with 1 out of 3 kids now considered overweight or obese.
Many kids are spending less time exercising and more time in front of the TV, computer, or video-game console. And today’s busy families have fewer free moments to prepare nutritious, home-cooked meals. From fast food to electronics, quick and easy is the reality for many people.
Preventing kids from becoming overweight means adapting the way your family eats and exercises, and how you spend time together. Helping kids lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents who lead by example.
Is Your Child Overweight?
Body mass index (BMI) uses height and weight measurements to estimate a person’s body fat. But calculating BMI on your own can be complicated. An easier way is to use a BMI calculator.
Once your child’s BMI is known, it can be plotted on a standard BMI chart. Kids ages 2 to 19 fall into one of four categories:
underweight: BMI below the 5th percentile
normal weight: BMI at the 5th and less than the 85th percentile
overweight: BMI at the 85th and below 95th percentiles
obese: BMI at or above 95th percentile
BMI calculations aren’t used to estimate body fat in babies and young toddlers. For kids younger than 2, doctors use weight-for-length charts to determine how a baby’s weight compares with his or her length. Any child who falls at or above the 85th percentile may be considered overweight.
BMI is not a perfect measure of body fat and can be misleading in some situations. For example, a muscular person may have a high BMI without being overweight (extra muscle adds to body weight — but not fatness). Also, BMI might be difficult to interpret during puberty when kids are experiencing periods of rapid growth. It’s important to remember that BMI is usually a good indicator — but is not a direct measurement — of body fat.
If you’re worried that your child or teen may be overweight, make an appointment with your doctor, who can assess eating and activity habits and make suggestions on how to make positive changes. The doctor also may decide to screen for some of the medical conditions that can be associated with obesity.
Depending on your child’s BMI (or weight-for-length measurement), age, and health, the doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian for additional advice and, possibly, might recommend a comprehensive weight management program.