BMI as a marker for obesity in children

Get answers to what BMI is, why it’s important and what can be done for obese children.

Recently schools in Massachusetts made the headlines and morning show news because of letters sent home to parents of children at risk of obesity, determined by their Body Mass Index (BMI). The school’s policy is raising questions about schools’ role in the public health issue of escalating obesity rates in children. Psychologists and other professionals have raised concerns about delivery approaches, personal touches and follow-up opportunities needed.

First, why do schools and health professionals care? More than 15 percent of children over the age of six are at, or above, the 95th percentile for BMI. Michigan State University Extension says that obesity is linked to increased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. Along with health issues parents, schools and pediatricians are recognizing impacts to children’s’ social, emotional and academic development. Concerns include stress, loneliness, lack of concentration, sleep apnea and poorer math performance, according to a University of Missouri study reported by ABC News.

Second, what is Body Mass Index? American Academy of Pediatrics explains that “the BMI is a calculated ratio of weight to height and it is widely used by adults to recognize when overweight crosses the line into obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that it be used for children over age two as well.”



1. Multiply his weight (in pounds) by 703

184 × 703 = (A) 129,352

2. Multiply his height (in inches) by itself

69 × 69 = (B) 4,761

3. Divide (A) by (B)

129,352 ÷ 4,761 = 27.2 (BMI Score)

*This calculation is inexact also because children’s body fatness changes as they mature. The interpretation of BMI depends on the child’s age. Additionally, girls and boys differ in their body fatness.

Third, what can be done? Community based or medically based prevention and intervention aims to lower Body Mass Index for children by:

1) Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables and reducing intake of sugared drinks

2) Reducing screen time (TV/electronic devices) and increasing time spent being physically active.

Sensitivity and individual needs can be handled by pediatricians, Women Infant and Children (WIC) nurses and registered dieticians. Helpful advice and resources can be found on the HealthyChildren.Org website. Behavior change is possible for caregivers and children alike through education and knowledge.

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