Study Shows BMI May Not Be a Suitable Measurement to Detect Obesity in Children

A study conducted by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez who is director of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic, finds that the commonly used body-mass-index measure may fail to identify as much as 25% of children, age 4 to 18 years, who have excess body fat that can cause damage to their health. Of course this isn’t good news to parents who are struggling with keeping their kids at a healthy weight and trusting the metrics that doctors use to measure that weight.

According to the most recent CDC statistics, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in children over the past 30 years and about 18% of children age 6 to 19 are classified as obese based on their BMI. So how many more are actually dealing with obesity and don’t know it. But this could be an even bigger problem as the indicator isn’t used in kids who are crossing the line, but are not labeled ‘overweight’. Children who are overweight, but not so far as being labeled ‘obese’ struggle as much with health and social concerns.

As an average parent, I was surprised to hear that school nurses use BMI to asses my child’s body fat content, a calculation based on a person’s height and weight. According to a quote by Ruth Loos, a professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, in a Wall Street Journal article on this subject, this measure isn’t well suited to children because their height and weight don’t proportionally increase as they grow.

In that same article, another expert notes:

“The take home is that BMI is an initial first step to assess risk,” said Dr. Hassink, president-elect of the AAP. “I think we need another measure that really may speak in a more refined way to the relative amount of adiposity versus muscle.”

What Should Successful Parents ‘Take Home’ About Their Child’s BMI

Being overweight as a child – or an adult – is not healthy. There is no argument against that. Yet, as a society, we look the other way when ads for sugary snacks and treats are everywhere our kids look or when a school decides that once a week is enough gym class time at their school. We, as parents, as consumers and as taxpayers, have power over these things.

My second thought on all of this is that prevention of obesity and living healthy shouldn’t be thought of as ‘prevention’ and ‘living healthy’. In other words, it needs to be the norm. It should feel normal to kids to be outside playing a ball game or riding a bike – every day. It should be normal for a parent to put out fruits and juice or water for an afternoon snack, rather than chips and soda.

I’m just not sure that we should wait until a school nurse has to tell us whether she thinks our child’s BMI is too high or not. I believe we would already see the problem. And if there is a problem, as parents, we would act. How, you may ask? By working with our child’s doctor and developing more healthy habits into our family routines.

But overall, I find the study troubling for more than one reason. While we have been trying to diagnose high BMI for kids for years, it isn’t helping. The fact that kids get measured, doesn’t mean that there is any follow up. Secondly, it may not even be a correct way to measure kids.

Please share your concerns, experiences and advice over this issue in the comments area.

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