BMI of your child: All you need to know

What is BMI?

BMI or Body Mass Index is the ratio between the weight of a person to his height. Higher the BMI, higher is the fat element in the body and vice versa, though this is only an indicative figure and not a direct measurement of the fat in the body. Hence the BMI is interpreted to be directly proportional to the body fats. The figure is derived through a mathematical equation. 

BMI indicates on five different aspects of a person – adult or child – whether he is underweight, is healthy, over-weight, excess weight or is obese. 


How is BMI of your child different from adult BMI?

BMI in children is different from that of adults. While in adults, the BMI reveals if the weight of the person is okay for his height or not, irrespective of his age, gender, ethnicity or muscle mass; in kids, the BMI is more in context of the age and the gender of the child. 

While in adults the BMI is simply a ratio between the weight and the height, in kids it is the BMI percentile that is required to assess the weight category of the child.

When the doctors interpret the Body Mass Index of a child, the age and the sex of the child needs to be thoroughly assessed and considered. They do so by using a graph or a chart where the BMI is plotted against the vertical or the Y-axis and the age on the horizontal or the X-axis. The point at which the two intersect is a percentile and the same percentile is then evaluated as per the corresponding percentile ranges. In the case of kids, the BMI percentile is used for initial screening of the child to see if the kid has any health-related and weight-related issues. 

BMI ranges for a child

The method of calculating the BMI for a child is:-

  1. Measure the height of the child or the teen while the child is standing erect and without shoes.
  2. Measure the weight of the child using a digital scale. 
  3. The BMI is then calculated using a BMI child calculator.
  4. Then the percentile is calculated using the BMI and the age of the child.

The following table is then referred to in order to understand if your child falls in which category. 

Percentile range Weight status
If the percentile is less than 5th percentile  Underweight
Between 5th and 85th percentile Healthy 
Between 85th and 94th percentile Over-weight
Greater than or equal to 95th percentile Obese

BMI Percentile chart


Reasons that cause higher BMI percentile or obesity in kids

Kids who fall in the 95th percentile or above are categorized as obese. These are kids who are above the accepted levels of weight for the particular age and height. 

Obesity is rising at alarming rates all over the globe as more and more children are now suffering from overweight-related issues. At childhood, the health effects of being overweight may not be that prominent as in adults but obesity if not handled well in the childhood stage, can lead to obese adults and adolescents. In the adult stage, obesity has serious medical effects for it directly affects the heart and can also lead to diabetes and issues psychological issues like depression, low self-esteem, stress etc.

It has mostly seen that kids who have unhealthy lifestyles are prone to become obese. Some of the common factors for overweight and obesity in children include:-

  1. Unhealthy eating habits and patterns – kids today love to eat junk, fast and fried food that have zero nutritional value and loads and loads of artificial sugars, oils and other harmful ingredients that are too high on unwanted calories. Deserts, chocolates, ice-creams, candies, and baked food also lead to  gaining weight while juices and soft drinks are full of sugar that directly impacts the weight of the child. You may want to read about clean eating habits in kids here.
  2. Minimal or zero physical activity – with the growth of the digital media and platform, most kids today are glued to the blue screen most of the time. Physical activity is almost negligible with most kids being physically inactive. Rather than playing outdoors, maximum kids these days spend their free time indoors watching the screens be TV or surfing the net or playing games online. This way they are not burning the calories effectively that they eat.
  3. Family history – sometimes obesity is attributed to the genes. However, it is not essential that every child in the family will have weight related issues, if it is a family problem. But if it is in the genes, the chances or the risks of being overweight or obese will be high in the kids.
  4. Stress – Dealing with stress can make a child overeat. The causes of stress in kids can be many. Some times the causes can be as complex as relationship & arguements between the parents while at times simple things like their peers and their toys can create stress in young minds. You can read about my post on things to know about teenage stress here. Infact if we go deeper into the subject, having stress is a part of life; the skills we have to deal with that stress is what makes and breaks the situation. So as parents if we are mindful about how we deal with our stress, we can create a great model in front of our kids to imitate. Also sometimes teaching our kids, talking about different ways they can deal with stress, telling them various options they can choose from qwhen they are feeling stressed is a great way to open their minds to a whole new world of possibilities.
  5. Boredom: Similarly, when a child is feeling bored, he may focus on eating. As parents, we shoudl be able to figure out the reason why our kids is getting back to food quickly. If the reason is boredom, then it is a clear sign that we need to be more involved with the kid and bring in little more responsibility & challenge in his everyday life. Having interesting games, involving him in chores, having his friends at home for a play date, reading books together, are few things that you can try to rid him of his boredom. Infact this is one area where we as parents can be as creative as we can. Volunteer for some community activity, plant a tree, let him hve a free play time with things around at house, create something out of waste, story telling are some other creative ways to engage the kids
  6. Socio-economic reasons – this is also a factor where parents might indulge their kids by buying fast and convenience food because they have limited resources. Children belonging to the lower income groups or the ones used to lavish lifestyle are more used to a sedentary lifestyle and may not get involved in physical activities on a regular basis thereby helping them gain unnecessary weight. 

Is obesity harmful for kids?

Maybe not very critical in this age but as they grow older they have be more susceptible to develop some serious health disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure, abdominal fat and high bad cholesterol. Overweight children have also been found to be more prone to asthma, sleep related issues, non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases and suffer from regular bone fractures. Obese kids also suffer from low self-esteem, depression, loneliness, hopelessness and are prone to fall prey to bullies too.

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