The likelihood of our children living healthy, long lives continues to decrease. A new study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that children now have more risk factors for heart disease than their parents. Our kids are now more likely to have a heart attack at some time during their lives than we are!
The major reason for this increased risk is the significantly increased rate of obesity among children. Studies show that children today have a significantly higher body mass index (BMI) than children in the past. Even more disturbing, they also have increased mass in their left heart ventricles, a known risk factor for both heart attacks and strokes.
This study supports what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been saying for the past few years; pediatricians and parents MUST start screening kids for obesity and taking action immediately. We can no longer wait until our children "grow out of their baby fat". Unfortunately, today's kids keep their baby fat and continue to add to it throughout their lives. Without some sort of intervention, our children will continue to eat themselves to death.
One major hindrance to treating overweight children is that parents and pediatricians often fail to recognize that a child is overweight. Our country's perception of normal is completely skewed; we have lost sight of what a child is supposed to look like. Studies show that the majority of parents of obese children consider their kids "normal weight". In fact, some of these parents labeled their kids as "underweight".
We must look at the facts and ignore our preconceived notions of what is a normal weight for a child. The body mass index (BMI) percentile is the best way to screen a child for obesity.
Pediatricians use BMI percentiles to determine if a child is overweight or obese. BMI is a measure of body weight relative to height. You can't determine if a child is overweight without considering the child's height. For example, is a child who weighs 90 pounds overweight? That depends. That child would be overweight if he were three feet tall but would not be overweight if he were five feet tall. BMI tells us how appropriate a child's weight is for his height and is a better measure of body fatness than body weight.
With adults, BMI interpretation is very cut and dry. A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight, between 30 and 35 is considered obese, and between 35 and 40 is considered morbidly obese.
It is not so simple for children. Children at different stages of growth and development are expected to have different amounts of body fat. At some stages of childhood they should have more body fat and at other stages of childhood they should have less.
To decide if a child is overweight or obese, we look at a child's BMI percentile. That is, we compare a child's BMI to the BMIs of all children of the same age and gender. We then see how the child compares to his peers.
What does it mean if a child is in the 88th percentile? A child whose BMI is in the 88th percentile has a BMI that is greater than 88% of all children of the same age and gender. This child is in the overweight category.
A BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles is considered overweight; between the 95th and 99th percentiles is considered obese; above the 99th percentile is considered morbidly obese.
Parents should ask their pediatricians about their child's BMI percentile at each well child visit. If your child's BMI is greater than the 85th percentile, you must take action immediately to minimize your child's risk of a heart attack and to maximize your child's lifespan. Do not wait to intervene!