How do I know if my child has a healthy weight?

Beyond the theme of physical appearance, weight can impact health.  In our children, being underweight or overweight can impair proper development physically, socially, and emotionally. Therefore, it is important that parents have resources so they can objectively evaluate their child’s weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recommend using Body Mass Index (BMI) as a screening tool to evaluate weight in childhood and adolescence. There are special BMI calculators for children and teens that reflect their physically growing bodies. BMI, in children and teens, is a number calculated from a child’s height, weight, age, and gender. A BMI percentile gives a reliable indicator of body fatness for most teens and children.  However, BMI is not a diagnostic tool. If a health care provider finds the child’s BMI score screens for an excess of fat or for excessive thinness, further assessments would need to be done to evaluate the situation properly.

Some recent research can give you new information to help you decide what is right for your family.

1.– 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese. Amongst African American and Hispanic children, nearly 40% are overweight or obese.

2.– Overweight and obese children and adolescents may suffer from to the following physical health problems:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure

3.- Overweight and obese children and adolescents may suffer the following social and emotional problems:

  • Social discrimination
  • Teasing/Bullying
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Body image disturbance

Based on this current research, the take away information to help you evaluate if your child has a healthy weight includes:

1.- Use scientifically validated tools to evaluate your child’s weight, such as the BMI calculator for children and teens.  Avoid using a comparative visual test between your child and his or her peers as many children are overweight and obese.

  • BMI calculators especially designed for children and teens can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s.
  • Based on the results of the BMI calculator, you may want to make an appointment with your health care provider, public health nurse, or school nurse to learn more about the results and what further steps should be taken to promote a health weight in your child.
  • Begin family conversations about healthy weight and healthy lifestyle to promote positive behaviors and teach your child life-long skills to attain and maintain a healthy weight.

The great news about healthy weight in children is that they are growing.  So if your child is overweight or obese, often times just by maintaining their weight they will grow into it as their height increases. Diets are usually NOT recommended in children and teens because of their special nutritional needs related to their physical growth. Parents should work closely with their health care provider to choose the right interventions to help their child find and keep a healthy weight.

Being sure that your child meets the recommended physical activity level appropriate to their age will also help with attainment and maintenance of a healthy weight.  To learn more about recommended physical activity levels, you may want to read this post: Is my child physically active enough?

Knowledge is power

  • What new information did you learn from this posting? 
  • Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change? 

Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.

 

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About the instructor
Proactive Parenting
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.

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