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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children
 

BMI for Children and Teens

By Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, Associate State Nutrition Specialist,
University of Missouri-Columbia


Body Mass Index (BMI) for children and teens is not the same as the BMI for adults. BMI for children and teens is determined by using gender specific BMI-for-age growth charts. In children and teens, body mass index is used to assess underweight, overweight, and risk for overweight.
 

Children's body fatness changes over the years as they grow. Also, girls and boys differ in their body fatness as they mature. This is why BMI for children, also referred to as BMI-for-age, is gender and age specific. BMI-for-age is plotted on gender specific growth charts. These charts are used for children and teens 2 – 20 years of age.
 

For the 2000 CDC Growth Charts and Additional Information visit CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
 

Each of the CDC BMI-for-age gender specific charts contains a series of curved lines indicating specific percentiles. Healthcare professionals use the following established percentile cutoff points to identify underweight and overweight in children.
 

  • Underweight BMI-for-age < 5th percentile
  • At risk of overweight BMI-for-age 85th percentile to < 95th percentile
  • Overweight BMI-for-age > 95th percentile
     

So what does it mean if my child is in the 75th percentile? The 75th percentile means that compared to children of the same gender and age, 75% have a lower BMI.
 

For children with a BMI between the 85% and 95% the appropriate goal is to maintain their weight. This can be accomplished by adopting healthy behaviors such as:
 

  • Be more physically active.
  • Spend less time watching TV.
  • Spend less time playing computer and video games.
  • Eat more family meals together.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat more colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Drink less soda and sweetened fruit drinks.
  • Eat less sweets and salty snacks.
     

If your child has a BMI greater than 95% he is considered overweight. If there are secondary complications such as mild hypertension, high blood lipid levels, and insulin resistance from being overweight the first thing you do is to maintain the weight. Once some of the healthy behaviors have been adopted then the recommendation is to loose no more than one pound a month. If your child experiences acute complications from being overweight, such as, sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, or orthopedic problems, they should be referred to a pediatric physician that specializes in complications of children that are overweight.
 

Healthy Behaviors

  • Be more physically active.
  • Spend less time watching TV.
  • Spend less time playing computer and video games.
  • Eat more family meals together.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat more colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Drink less soda and sweetened fruit drinks.
  • Eat less sweets and salty snacks.
     

Resource: CDC
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhanes/growthcharts/set1/chart15.pdf 
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhanes/growthcharts/set1/chart16.pdf 

 

 

Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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