You may look at your kids and think, "He's strong and sturdy," or "She's still got a bit of baby fat." But check again; that baby fat could have big consequences for her health. Child obesity can leave kids at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and even depression.
Defining Child Obesity
At regular check-ups, your child's doctor should check his height and weight and calculate his body-mass index, or BMI (see an online calculator that helps you check against thresholds for child obesity).
- A child (between the ages of 2 and 18) is considered obese if his BMI is at or above the 95th percentile for their age and sex, or if his BMI is 30 or above.
- A child is considered overweight if her BMI is at or above the 85th percentile (but below the 95th percentile).
Because kids' growth patterns are different from adults, a child's BMI can't be directly compared to an adult's. Special BMI-for-age charts help doctors know which kids are at risk. So do growth patterns over time, and so does questions doctors may ask about diet and fitness, such as:
- How often do you eat out? Do you eat fast food?
- How often do you drink soda, fruit juice, or other sweet beverages?
- Do you eat breakfast? What do you eat?
- How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat each day?
- How much time each day do you spend doing physical activities? Do you have a safe place to play outside?
- How about sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing video games?
If the BMI, the lifestyle questions, and/or family medical history raise a red flag, the doctor may order follow-up lab tests, such as a lipid profile (which checks the level of cholesterol in the blood), and recommend lifestyle changes for the whole family or other treatments.
Expert Committee Recommendations on the Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity. American Medical Association, January 25, 2007.
About BMI for children and teens. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 22, 2007.