Each time your baby or toddler goes for a well-child visit, your health care provider will plot his height and weight on a growth chart. (You can find a CDC growth chart that corresponds to your child’s sex and age) Your child’s weight and height will be plotted for his age. This tells how your child compares to a group of other children his same age and sex. On the other side of this chart, your child’s height will be plotted with his weight (height/weight). This gives a picture of how your child’s weight relates to his height. All the charts contain lines called percentiles. For example, if your child plots at the 95th percentile, this means that his weight is disproportionately large compared to his height. (If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you may want to ask your health care provider to use a World Health Organization (WHO) growth chart, which more accurately depicts breastfed infants.)
Overweight is now considered a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles according to the American Medical Association’s new definition. Obesity is considered over the 95th percentile. Some health organizations use the terms at risk for overweight, or overweight in place of overweight and obesity.
Once your child turns two years of age, his height and weight will be used to calculate his Body Mass Index or BMI. BMI, which is calculated the same way for adults, is considered a fairly reliable assessment of body fat. However, a higher BMI can be present for children who are more muscular. To learn more about BMI read Defining Overweight and Obesity: What is BMI.
BMI is most useful in looking at a pattern of weight gain. If there is a pattern of escalating body fat, then it is time to take inventory of your child’s eating and activity. Also, if your child’s BMI is above the 95th percentile and your child is under 5, this is cause for concern as kids with excess body fat at this age are more likely to be overweight as adults. Keep in mind that small habits, such as drinking an extra sweet drink every day, can quickly add up to excess body fat. Your child’s health care provider is the best one to assess your child’s BMI. Meet with a registered dietitian and learn more about healthy eating as a family.
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