Weight Guidelines for Kids: Is Your Child Overweight?
Today, an estimated 16% of kids and teens ages 6 to 19 are overweight. The proportion of kids who are overweight is steadily climbing and is now triple what it was in 1980. The incidence of overweight and obese children has become a serious health concern. Overweight children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. They also have to deal with social discrimination from their peers, which can lead to poor self-esteem and depression. What’s more, overweight kids have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults (80% if one or more parent is overweight or obese).
But what does this mean? How do you know if your child is overweight? The best way to find out is to schedule a visit with your child's pediatrician or family physician, who can tell you if your child’s weight is in a healthy range. But, if you are concerned that your child may be overweight, there are some other ways you can assess your child’s weight.
Methods for Assessing Children’s Weight
Clinical Growth Charts
Your pediatrician or family physician will likely measure your child’s height and weight to monitor growth patterns during regular appointments. Most physicians use clinical growth charts to make these determinations.
The physician will use your child’s height and weight to determine what “percentile” your child falls into according to an age- and gender-appropriate growth chart. A percentile will tell you how your child’s height and weight compare to a nationally representative group of children the same age and gender. For example, if your child falls into the 70th percentile, approximately 70% of children your child’s age and gender are at a lower height or weight than your child.
Clinical growth charts can be accessed at the National Center for Health Statistics website.
BMI-for-Age Growth Charts
For children ages 2 to 20, BMI-for-age charts are the best way to assess their weight in relation to their height. Since childrens’ and teens’ body fatness fluctuates as they grow, the cutoff points that adults use for BMI are not applicable to children. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed charts for assessing children’s BMI according to their age and gender. Like clinical growth charts, BMI-for-age charts indicate which percentile your child falls into.
BMI-for-age growth charts can be accessed at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website.
The CDC has established percentile cutoff points to help physicians and parents determine whether a child is of a healthy weight. Body composition (percentage of muscle and fat) can influence these numbers, but for most children, the following cutoff points apply accurately to children from ages 2 to 20:
|Classification||Cutoff Point of BMI for age|
|Underweight||Less than the 5th percentile|
|At risk for overweight||85th-94th percentile|
|Overweight||95th percentile or greater|
If Your Child Is Overweight
If your child is overweight, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you do the following:
- Be supportive. Make sure your child knows that you love and accept him or her at any weight. Listen to your child’s concerns about his or her weight and offer your support, acceptance, and encouragement.
- Encourage healthy eating habits. Make an effort to keep a variety of healthful foods—fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and lean meats—on hand. Practice healthful eating habits such as eating breakfast everyday, eating fast food less often, and healthy snacking.
- Encourage daily physical activity. Help your child get some exercise everyday. When it’s safe and feasible, let him or her walk to school, the store, or friends' houses. It also helps to encourage physical education in school, participation in extracurricular sports teams or classes, and to be active as a family.
- Discourage inactive pastimes. Limit the time your child is allowed to watch TV, play video games, and surf the internet. Instead, help your child come up with fun alternatives to watching TV.
- Be a positive role model. Show your child that you lead a healthy lifestyle by eating healthful foods and being physically active. This way, your child will be more likely to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits that will last a lifetime.
- Seek help. Your physician, local library, and local recreation or community center may offer information and programs that will help you manage your child’s weight. Seek help from these resources if you need it.
Families Finding the Balance: A Parent Handbook
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders
Primary Care Pediatrics Ontario Association of Pediatricians
BMI for children and teens. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm. Accessed May 14, 2008.
Clinical growth charts. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/nhanes/growthcharts/clinical_charts.htm. Accessed August 26, 2003.
Helping your overweight child. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/pubs/helpchld.htm. Accessed May 14, 2008.
Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, 1999-2000. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/overwght99.htm. Accessed August 27, 2003.
Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, 1999-2002. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/overwght99.htm. Accessed May 14, 2008.
The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Office of the Surgeon General website. Available at: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/fact_adolescents.htm. Accessed August 26, 2003.
Use and interpretation of the CDC growth charts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/growthcharts/guide_intro.htm. Accessed May 14, 2008.
Last reviewed April 2008 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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