The BMI (Body Mass Index) is a tool for understanding obesity and its use in children is growing. If your pediatrician hasn’t used it at your child’s annual check-up, you may see it in the school setting soon.
The BMI is an assessment tool that calculates the combination of weight and height to determine the appropriateness of a person’s body weight for their current height. Results of the BMI calculation may include: underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese.
The BMI is a screening tool developed for populations to determine public health risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Its use in children over the age of two has increased due to the rising incidence of childhood obesity. Most pediatricians are routinely assessing BMI at your child’s annual check-up. However, less common is the use of BMI as a screening tool in schools. The BMI as a screening tool for school-age children is gaining momentum–thirteen states are currently using BMI screening methods (as of 10/1/2009) to help pinpoint, prevent, and reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity. Will this be effective?
One of the key elements to the reversal of any trend is awareness. BMI data can help build awareness in families, if it is presented in a responsible way. Cultural sensitivity to parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight is important. Evidence shows that some parents perceive overweight as healthier and better for their child. Linking weight status to health risk is key to building awareness in these groups. Also, many families have no idea that their child may be gaining too much weight –because when they look around at other children, their own child doesn’t look dissimilar.
Education about the BMI measurement and its limitations is crucial. The BMI measurement provides a total body index and does not differentiate body frame size and muscle mass from fat stores. In other words, you may have a large-framed child that is muscular who may be classified as overweight or obese. Looking at the child as an individual…what they eat, how they eat, how physically active they are, parents’ frame size, etc. can aid in keeping the right perspective when it comes to your child’s weight and interpreting his BMI result.
Communication of the BMI data results require sensitive wording and resources for parents who want to seek further help for their child. Presenting this data without resources can be confusing and concerning to a parent. BMI result information should include local programs and providers who can assist with healthier eating and lifestyle enhancement.
And if you are told your child’s BMI is too high? Consult with your pediatrician, registered dietitian, or other health care provider to gather information and education that is tailored to your child, family, and lifestyle. An elevated BMI and the associated risks for chronic disease can be normalized and/or reversed with healthy eating, physical activity, and lifestyle changes. For a BMI calculator tool, go to http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: October 1, 2009
Updated on: January 30, 2018