It’s a long-honored tradition: several times a year, parents receive report cards showing how their children have done academically. However, with continuing increases in childhood obesity rates, school districts and states across the country have been increasingly considering a new type of parental notification: the BMI report card.
BMI, short for body mass index, is a way of measuring weight relative to height. BMI is calculated by taking a person’s weight (in kilograms) and dividing it by height (in meters) squared. Among adults, a BMI of 18 to 24.9 is normal, 25 to 29.9 is overweight and above 30 obese. Because children grow and develop, absolute cut points can’t be used in pediatrics. Instead, a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile is considered overweight, and above the 95th percentile obese.
Of course, individuals differ in relative amounts of fat and lean tissue. A teenager engaging in regular, intense physical activities may have a high BMI due to extra muscle. However, for the vast majority, BMI is a good measure of weight status and risk for obesity-related conditions.
The health effects of childhood obesity and high BMI are well-known: excess pounds can lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea, among other serious health problems in adulthood.
Therefore, these school- sponsored messages may give parents a needed reality check. As previously discussed here at Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, parents of overweight children often believe their children are at a healthy weight, even though almost one third of kids are actually overweight or obese.
Although, some critics question the government's place in getting involved in something as personal as weight, efforts to deal with the problem may be more effective in childhood than any other time in life. For these reasons, BMI reports cards make sense.
The next time you get a BMI report card, first give serious consideration to whether your family needs to improve their eating habits and increase their physical activity level. If your child’s BMI percentile is already high, or climbing fast, discuss the issue with your pediatrician or make an appointment with a childhood obesity program, like Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right.
Parents are encouraged to share this information with their child's doctor, who can help interpret the results and make recommendations.
To start, here are some tips to help kids maintain a healthy weight: