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Height, weight, and BMI

Not everyone grows and develops on the same schedule. Growth charts are a tool for tracking your child's physical growth and development. They help a pediatrician make sure he or she is gaining inches, putting on pounds, and increasing in head size (an indicator of healthy and normal brain development) at a rate that's typical for her age.

By charting a child's height, weight, and head circumference over time, these measurements also allow doctors and parents to see if a child is gaining weight more quickly than she's adding inches, or vice-versa—signs that she may be on track to becoming overweight or isn't eating as much as she should.

The categories that describe a person's weight are:

  • Underweight: BMI below the 5th percentile age, gender, and height.
  • Healthy weight: BMI is equal to or greater than the 5th percentile and less than the 85th percentile for age, gender, and height.
  • Overweight: BMI at or above the 85th percentile but less than the 95th percentile for age, gender, and height.
  • Obese: BMI at or above the 95th percentile for age, gender, and height.

BMI Calculator for Child and Teen

Who is at risk

If your child's measurements fall outside of the normal values, a serious evaluation for potential health issues should be discussed with the pediatrician.

Equally concerning would be a series of measurements showing a big change from what has previously been a stable rate of growth, even if the absolute values are still graphed on the growth chart.

If your child is underweight or losing weight; is tired or ill a lot; has lasting symptoms like a cough, fever, diarrhea, or other problems, talk with the pediatrician. Children who are underweight because of eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, need medical attention.

What you can do

Balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.

Help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations.

  • Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
  • Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
  • Serve reasonably-sized portions.
  • Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.

Preventive service at no cost

Height, weight and body mass index (BMI) measurements for children ages: 0 to 11 months, 1 to 4 years, 5 to 10 years, 11 to 14 years, 15 to 17 years during well child visits.

Why screening is important

  • Children with obesity can be bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers. They are also more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem. The effects of this can last into adulthood.
  • Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being reported among children who are overweight. Onset of diabetes in children can lead to heart disease and kidney failure.
  • Children with obesity also have more risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and high cholesterol than their normal weight peers. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of children who were overweight had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 25% had two or more CVD risk factors.
  • Children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems. Adult obesity is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancers.

What the screening is

Your child’s pediatrician will take measurements and record them on a growth chart. The BMI will be calculated from those measurements.

Treatment

If your child's weight isn't in the healthy range, the doctor will give you specific diet and exercise recommendations. It's important to follow a plan that's designed for your child by the doctor or a dietitian.

Additional tips

Children should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a healthcare provider.

Additional Resources