Body Mass Index (BMI) is a useful screening tool that can serve as a measure of body fat and uncover potential weight and health-related issues.
There are many factors that determine an individual’s BMI, weight and body fat. This includes genetics and family history, environmental factors and daily lifestyle choices. While factors like family history cannot be changed, there are many simple ways to bring healthy choices to life in order to reduce your risk for health problems and disease.
Children and adolescents who screen as overweight or obese are at greater risk for developing serious health diseases and conditions such diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, bone and joint problems and sleep apnea.
A growing concern among experts is that for the first time in U.S. history, the current generation will live shorter, unhealthier lives than their parents due to the obesity epidemic.
Obesity affects about 12.7 million U.S. children and adolescents. Despite recent declines in the prevalence among preschool-aged children, obesity among children is still too high, hovering around 17% for ages 2 – 19.
Students in Pennsylvania are screened for BMI as part of annual, state-mandated health screenings in schools. Although BMI screenings and notification programs hold promise of addressing a serious issue, a gap still exists in follow-up measures for children who screen overweight and obese.
Parents value weight-focused guidance from a trusted medical professional. Research has shown that patients who were counseled in a primary care setting about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity often took positive action. Patients lost weight and exercised more than peers who did not receive counseling. Parents are more likely to identify their child’s correct body image and address unhealthy behaviors after conversations with their pediatrician.
BMI for children and young adults ages 2-19 is referred to as BMI-for-age. The reason for this is that body fat changes as you grow. BMI-for-age is plotted on separate growth charts to determine a BMI percentile ranking.
A BMI percentile is an indication of how a child’s measurements compare to others of the same age and gender. A child whose BMI is at the 50th percentile is close to the average of the population. A child above the 95th percentile is considered obese because 95 percent of the population weighs less than he or she does. A child below the 5th percentile is considered underweight because 95 percent of the population weighs more. You may receive these charts at your child’s yearly checkup.
Use this calculator to calculate BMI and the corresponding BMI-for-age percentile based on the CDC growth charts for children and teens (ages 2 through 19 years).
Studies show that school-based interventions have been unsuccessful in reducing childhood obesity prevalence, potentially due to the lack of follow-up with appropriate nutritional education programming. To help fill this gap, the Highmark Foundation partnered with Penn State PRO Wellness to develop and test an effective BMI screening letter that leads parents to digital tools and resources for making healthy lifestyle changes for their families. This letter is now recommended for use by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Our research team was pleased to learn that this revised letter showed favorable results. Among parents of overweight or obese children, more recipients of the revised letter intended to take action based on information it contained when compared to those receiving the standard letter (68% vs. 45%). In addition, parents of overweight or obese children who received the revised as compared to the standard letter were more likely to read the entire letter (82% vs. 77%).
Click here to complete the BMI Screening Letter request form, be sure to select ‘BMI Letter’ from the selection options. Once your information is received, you will gain access to our BMI Letter via email.
Unhealthy habits can be difficult to break but possible to change. Consistent, progressive steps to making wise food choices and increasing physical activity are the two most important steps to achieving a healthy weight. Small changes can add up to huge benefits and can be as easy as updating recipe ingredients with healthier options. Suggestions on moving more can be as simple as taking a brisk 30-minute walk after a meal. Gradual changes are more likely to become lifestyle habits over time.
Opening up a discreet and sensitive dialog with patients can improve efforts to motivate them to make healthy lifestyle changes. Approach weight-related concerns with privacy and without judgment, this can be done by asking if it’s okay to talk about wellness goals. Children and parents may be more receptive and feel less threatened.
No one wants to be singled out when it comes to his or her weight. Suggest team-oriented or family activities to encourage healthful changes. Family and friends can support one another by cooking, eating and moving together. These activities can put children at ease and give them the boost needed to form healthier habits.
Share the following resources to guide families on making healthy food and activity choices.
For School Nurses
School nurses are in a key position to address the needs of children who are obese and overweight as well as advocate for those at risk of becoming obese. Students see you regularly and look to your expertise. Parents know if a health crisis occurs, you are there to ensure their child’s safety and care.
Pennsylvania law mandates yearly school health screenings of height, weight and BMI. Calculated BMI results serve as a tool to identify students who require follow up care.
Poor diet and inadequate physical activity are leading contributors to being overweight and obese. As a trusted medical professional, you can offer guidance on evidenced-based resources and practical solutions to make healthy choices a lifestyle.
Try these strategies:
Below you will find additional resources for providing tips, answers and information to patients and families.
Pediatric E-Practice: Optimizing Your Obesity Care (PeP) (a virtual office) is a new and fun way to access resources to support pediatric obesity care. PeP is a virtual office that provides access to the American Academy of Pediatrics and partner resources for prevention, assessment and treatment all in the context of pediatric office workflow.
The Role of the Pediatrician in Primary Prevention of Obesity
Stephen R. Daniels, Sandra G. Hassink
This clinical report describes the rationale for pediatricians to be an integral part of the obesity-prevention effort. This report also identifies important gaps in evidence that need to be filled by future research.
Parents’ Healthy Weight Perceptions and Preferences Regarding Obesity Counseling In Preschoolers: Pediatricians Matter
Raquel G. Hernandez, Tina L. Cheng, and Janet R. Serwint
This paper describes a study comparing parental report of child body image with perceived healthy weight body image in preschoolers and discovered that weight focused advice from pediatricians matters to parents and may promote parental identification of early childhood weight risks.
Mobile Apps for Providers and Parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics partners with publishers of mobile apps in order to provide both parents and health care providers with tools for fast, convenient answers and information.
Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight – Quick links and Resources
The American Academy of Pediatricians Institute of Healthy Childhood Weight will serve as a transitional engine to optimize health care, engage families and catalyze communities.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a well-known, scientifically tested method of counseling clients to make behavioral changes. Its founders, Dr. William R. Miller and Dr. Stephen Rollnick, define it as “a directive, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. Compared with nondirective counseling, it is more focused and goal-directed.” Its use can be an effective tool in helping obese and overweight children.
Finding the best way to talk about the sensitive topic of weight is not always easy. Both patients and parents are often reluctant to discuss weight for fear of shame, blame or judgment. Asking, listening and empowering families to participate actively in making wise choices about their health are key components to MI. Following are some quick tips for communicating with patients.
Click here to view a digital skill-building practice tool that helps healthcare providers build MI skills. Engage in a conversation with a virtual mother and her son and apply MI techniques to drive positive change in health behaviors.
Source: Pediatric Obesity Clinical Decision Support Chart. American Academy of Pediatrics
Children who are overweight or obese and their families who find it hard to establish healthy habits on their own may benefit from a weight management program. Goal setting, accountability by monitoring progress and specialized guidance are components of a more structured program and provide the added support some need to make healthy, long lasting changes.
Many of the following community groups offer free or low-cost nutrition or fitness classes. As a resource to guide patients and families, compile a list of those offered in your area:
Patients should always consult their healthcare providers before starting any weight loss program.
Programs that are more extensive can range from meeting with a nutritionist to seeking a multidisciplinary healthcare team at a weight control center.
Penn State PRO Wellness, in collaboration with Highmark Foundation, is pleased to offer no-cost, pre-recorded professional development opportunities for school nurses.
In an effort to improve school health, PRO Wellness surveyed school nurses to gain insight into which educational topics would be of most value to them and their schools. Using the information collected, PRO Wellness developed five pre-recorded, professional development trainings for school nurses. Physician experts from Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network were consulted to create topical trainings.
NOTE: We are no longer able to provide access to ACT 48/58 credit hours for completion of the pre-recorded, school nurse professional development trainings. However, we will issue a certificate of completion. Click here to request a certificate of completion that can be submitted through your professional channels to request credit.
On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases. Vaccines are tested to ensure that they are safe and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages. Talk to your child’s doctor about the latest vaccine recommendations for their age.
Click on each age group below to view the CDC recommended vaccination schedules:
Vaccinations are required for children to attend school in Pennsylvania. The new regulations took effect at the start of the 2017/18 school year. The school immunization regulations are intended to ensure that children attending school in the commonwealth are protected against potential outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases.
Information for Parents:
Information for Schools:
Click here to access additional resources about the School Immunization Law Report (SILR) and the School Immunization Catch-Up Program (SICU) through the Pennsylvania Department of Health.