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Weight Guidelines for Kids: Is Your Child Overweight?

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Image for weight guidelines children Overweight or obesity in children is 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 higher chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

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 doctor, 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

Your pediatrician or family doctor will likely measure your child’s height and weight to monitor growth patterns during regular appointments. Most doctors use clinical growth charts to make these determinations.

The doctor 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 of the same age and gender. For example, if your child falls into the 70th percentile for weight, approximately 70% of children your child’s age and gender are at a lower weight than your child.

Clinical growth charts can be accessed at the National Center for Health Statistics website.

For children aged 2-20, BMI (body mass index)-for-age charts are a 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 a...Health Promotion website.

Cutoff Points

The CDC has established percentile cutoff points to help doctors 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 aged 2-20:

ClassificationCutoff Point of BMI for age
UnderweightLess than the 5th percentile
Healthy weight5th precentile-84th percentile
Overweight85th-94th percentile
Obese95th percentile or greater

If Your Child Is Overweight

If your child is overweight, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests you do the following:

  1. Be supportive. Make sure your child knows that you love and accept him at any weight. Listen to your child’s concerns about his weight and offer your support, acceptance, and encouragement.
  2. 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.
  3. Encourage daily physical activity. Help your child get some exercise everyday. When it’s safe and feasible, let him 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Seek help. Your doctor, 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.

RESOURCES:

Healthy Weight

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/index.html

Families Finding the Balance: A Parent Handbook

http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/Calculator.aspx

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders

http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/over_child.htm

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Primary Care Pediatrics Ontario Association of Pediatricians

http://www.utoronto.ca/kids

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About BMI for children and teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/childrens_bmi/about_childrens_bmi.html. Updated September 13, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2012.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use and interpretation of the CDC growth charts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/growthcharts/guide_intro.htm. Updated November 2, 2007. Accessed June 1, 2012.

Childhood obesity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 16, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2012.

.Clinical growth charts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/clinical_charts.htm. Updated August 4, 2009. Accessed June 1, 2012.

Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents: United States, Trends 1963–1965 Through 2007-2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.htm. Accessed June 1, 2012.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. 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 June 1, 2012.

Obesity in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://ebscohost.com/dynamedUpdated May 16, 2012. Accessed June 1, 2012.

Polsdorfer R. Obesity. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 2011. Accessed June 1, 2012.

Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

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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