Body Mass Index, BMI, may not be a concept that you have ever discussed with your child's pediatrician. Although most parents are very familiar with the pediatric height and weight curves and can tell you their child's percentiles for both; the BMI curve is often not discussed at most check-ups.
However, as part of the fight against childhood obesity, all pediatricians are being asked to plot and discuss children's BMI with their parents at every check-up.
BMI can be calculated for children over the age of two. BMI's in the 95 percentile and above indicate that the child is obese. Children whose BMI's fall in the 85-95 percentile are classified as overweight. Children in the 5-85 percentile are considered a healthy weight and those under the 5th percentile are classified as underweight.
As you can see, there is a broad range of what is considered a healthy weight. In some cases, a healthy BMI may be very misleading. For children whose BMI is steadily climbing, even if it is still below the 85 percentile, there is reason for concern. This time of pre-overweight may prove to be a more effective time for intervention than once a child is overweight or obese. To calculate and track your child's BMI you can use the Center for Disease Control's BMI calculator.
If you do decide to calculate your child's BMI, remember that although the percentile is important, trends are important too. For children who are obese, it may be quite a while until their BMI is within a healthy range but slow and steady progress down, over possibly years, is the goal.
To help with this goal there are many resources available. The White House's anti-obesity campaign "Let's Move" was unveiled this month and with it a website was created with a tremendous amount of information from estimated caloric requirements for children at every age to tips for dealing with picky preschoolers.
Although BMI is not calculated until 2 years of age, it is important to start establishing healthy habits at a young age. It is best to try to teach your children to eat right and exercise daily long before their weight is ever a concern. This means that you may find your pediatrician asking more questions about your little ones diet and activity level. You may even be handed a "Prescription for Healthy Active Living." These handouts reiterate the basic recommendations for healthy living for children:
5 – Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
2 – Limit screen time (TV, computer, video games) to 2 hours a day.
Children younger than 2 should have no screen time at all.
1 – Strive for 1 hour of physical activity a day.
0 – Limit sugar-sweetened drinks.