Determining Whether Your Child Is Obese


Fat babies are simply irresistible. People want to hug them, pinch their cheeks and tickle their bellies. Fathers always beam with pride whenever someone comments on the size of a big boy, “Yeah, he is gonna be our linebacker!” While, mothers worry that their jumbo-sized sweethearts can’t control their own strength and may inadvertently crush other kids on the playground. As a matter of fact, if parents are only concerned about how their children will behave, they tend to be less interested with their children weight. Parents (especially grandparents) may say that there is nothing wrong with the child and try to convince everyone that the child will have ideal weight when he gets older.

Luckily, many times it is true. As children get taller and become more active, they no longer gain weight and eventually have normal body weight. So when parents should be really worried about their children weight? Is chubby baby always a candidate for obese adult? What will happen to a preschooler that shows no sign of being able to limit food and seems to be always hungry? Obviously, you should know how to distinguish between normal chubbiness and obesity. You should also understand about emotional difficulties that obese children face and find ways to eliminate bad habits immediately.

Obese or just chubby?

First things first: infants and children are never, ever considered medically as obese. Determining whether children are overweight is daunting because they still have a flatter belly. But on older children, it is evident that parents are frequently the last to recognize the problems of the child’s weight.

If a pediatrician tells you that your child has weight problem, you should listen. He is not trying to be mean or judgmental. He has seen the bad effects of obesity on the body, and acts on the child’s best interest.

The diagnosis of obesity

The only person who can make a valid diagnosis on obesity is the child’s doctor, who can assess the body fat amount in a child accurately. There are a few ways to measure body fat, including using an underwater scale or MRI, but these methods can be expensive for some people.

Some doctors use calipers to determine the amount of subcutaneous fat in specific parts of the body. Gauge readings are accurate for determining the amount of fat in a person, but are notoriously difficult to reproduce. The doctor may do the measurement first and then hands over the calipers to a nurse to confirm the reading, just to make sure they don’t get different readings. Thus, in terms of ease of use and reliability, calipers are great in the hands of an expert, but not as useful when used by someone without enough experience. Measuring and comparing fat distribution on the body is another way to evaluate obesity in children, but once again, science is never perfect. There is a debate in the medical community whether circumferences and ratios are reliable in determining obesity. For instance, although it is widely accepted by doctors that excessive abdominal fat is a bad thing in adults, this does not seem to have the same effect on children and there should be more research on body fat distribution on children. Doctors use a standard called the BMI (body mass index) to distinguish between overweight and obesity. This table can be used for adults and children to measure how much fat a person has.

When you bring your child to a doctor for an examination, the nurse measures his weight and height and enters those figures into a chart, and the doctor may say, for example, “Billy in 85th percentile in height”. Obese children fall in the higher percentiles of weight, which can be misleading if you don’t incorporate height in the calculation. So even though the child may fall into a higher percentile of weight, he may not be obese if he is in the high percentile of height. These are a few things you need to know about BMI:

  • On adults, a BMI of 30 or more indicates obesity.
  • On children BMI score is also evaluated based on their age.
  • A child is thought to be obese if the results in the 95th percentile for his age.

The formula for determining BMI is:

[Weight (lb) ÷ (height (in) X 2)] × 703

If an adult with a BMI of 30 is considered as obese, the score for an obese child is much lower. For example, a 7-year-old girl with a BMI of 21 is considered obese because she has a 95th percentile. A child who is at 85th percentile is considered overweight or at risk of becoming obese.

When a child finally becomes seriously overweight, you need to do something, and a good tool like a BMI allows doctors and parents to say, “Look, her weight problem is becoming more serious. She is moving into a critical area, and we must correct this situation before it threatens her health”.

Doctor’s concern can be directly related with age of the child. A 7-year-old child who is obese have plenty of time to limit his weight gain before it starts to affect his heath. A 17-year-old, however, almost reach the peak of his height potential and has much bigger risk of becoming an obese adult. Depending on how long someone is obese, the person may have an increased risk of developing health problems like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea.

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George Cranston

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