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Body Mass Index (BMI) Screening: Frequently Asked Questions

What is BMI?

BMI stands for Body Mass Index. It is a way of checking to see if your child has a healthy weight. The results of the screening compare your child’s height and weight to other children of the same age and sex. The results are given as a “percentile.” The percentile shows how a child’s BMI compares to others of the same age and sex. In general, the higher the BMI, the more fat there is in the body. Below are examples of percentiles for BMI.

Why is BMI screening important to children and families?

BMI is way to detect possible weight problems for children. A BMI below 5th percentile may mean that a child is not growing well or that he or she may be at risk for an eating disorder. Children with a BMI above 85th percentile are overweight. Those above 95th percentile are obese. Overweight or obese kids are more likely to be overweight adults. This puts them at risk for a number of health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Should I talk to my doctor or nurse about the results?

It is always good to talk with your child’s doctor or nurse about information like this. Your doctor may have talked with you about your child’s weight before, but you can use these screening results to talk with them again. If your child’s BMI concerns or surprises you, you should talk with your child’s doctor or nurse before your next well child visit, which may not be for awhile.

Is it possible that a child with a high BMI isn’t overweight?

Many things can affect BMI, like family history and amount of muscle. BMI cannot tell a difference between muscle and fat, so if a child is very athletic and has a lot of muscle, his or her BMI can be high, even though he or she is not overweight. Your child’s doctor or nurse can help you understand what your child’s BMI screening results mean for him or her.

What can I do to help my child be healthier?

You can talk with your child’s doctor about his or her BMI. You can also help your child eat 3 balanced meals a day. These meals should include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low-fat or non-fat milk. You should limit foods high in sugar and fat. For example, avoid soda and other foods that have lots of calories but no nutritional value.

In addition, you should encourage your children to be active for at least an hour each day and limit how much time they spend watching TV or playing on the computer. You can support your school’s efforts to increase physical activity during the school day and provide healthy food options. You can also work with other community leaders and local organizations to make sure healthy food and safe, affordable places to be physically active are available in your neighborhood.

How should I talk with my child about his or her results?

You can start by saying that the BMI screening gives you and your child information about how he or she is growing. Rather than talking about BMI, you can talk about ways to stay healthy and active.

If you and your child have talked about these topics before, either at home or in the doctor’s office, you can remind your child how this fits in with what you have already discussed. You can also ask your child if he or she has any questions about the program. Encouraging your child to share feelings about his or her growing and changing body will let him or her know it is okay to talk about these things with you.

What other information is available to help me?

Talk to your child’s doctor or school nurse, and visit the Mass In Motion website for more ideas on how to eat better and move more.

Online BMI calculator: http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/Calculator.aspx