Body mass index (BMI) is an established measure used by physicians and health experts to determine weight status in children and adults.
BMI is measured at every pediatric well-child check-up, and in the Miami-Dade public school system it is measured in specified grades throughout elementary, middle and high school. It is calculated using factors of age, gender, weight, and height. In children it is measured in percentiles with four main categories: underweight (below the 10th percentile), acceptable weight, overweight (85th to 95th percentile), and obesity (above the 95th percentile).
A child’s BMI can be a reliable indicator of their current physical health and well-being and can be used to determine the risk of developing health problems in the future. Based on BMI, parents can consider if their child’s current diet and activity level are sustaining good physical health. Once parents know their child’s BMI, they can take steps to improve their health if change is necessary.
As of 2015, 1 in every 3 American children was considered overweight or obese based on their BMI. This is a staggering increase from previous years, totaling three times the percentage in 1970. This increase in childhood obesity can cause serious problems both in childhood and adulthood. Studies show that 60 percent of overweight children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 25 percent have two or more risk factors.
These children are also at higher risk for many other diseases, including asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and physiological stress caused by low self-esteem and social anxiety. In addition, obese teenagers have an 80 percent chance of being obese into adulthood.
Being underweight is a less significant issue in our population but puts children at risk of short stature and developmental delay. Sometimes it is an indicator of a more serious underlying medical condition that your doctor can treat to prevent further harm to your child.
Healthy eating will help improve BMI in children. This includes eating fruits and vegetables with every meal, drinking water instead of sugary juices, energy drinks and sodas, and avoiding fatty, fried foods and processed foods with high sugar content. In addition, physically active children are more likely to have a healthy BMI. We should all engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
If you have concerns about your child’s BMI, talk to his or her doctor about what you can do to help keep your children healthy.
Ethan Camacho is a student research volunteer and Amanda C. Fifi, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Miami Health System.