Childhood obesity part 2: Flaws in using the BMI to diagnose obesity
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A simple calculation is all it takes to diagnose a child with a serious health problem that has been gaining attention in the past decade. To determine whether a child is struggling with childhood obesity, the body mass index (BMI) is used by physicians and school nurses nationwide. Those who are labeled obese could face social stigmatization along with the development of mental health disorders, such as anxiety and/or depression. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a chance to examine the ways in which the nation can help those struggling with childhood obesity while recognizing the potential flaws in certain aspects of the diagnostic process.

The BMI is used within the medical community to determine whether an individual is “underweight,” “normal or healthy weight,” “overweight” or “obese.” Though these terms are relative, the BMI does not take this into consideration, as it is simply a calculator that crunches numbers. An individual’s BMI is determined by dividing his or her weight in kilograms by squared height in meters. Children and adolescents ages 2 to 20 are rated on a different BMI scale than adults. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, “Because there are changes in weight and height with age, as well as their relation to body fatness, BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same sex and age.” Youth with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile within their age and sex are categorized as obese.

Those within the medical community often acknowledge inconsistencies with the BMI. Experts note this index does not distinguish fat from muscle or different types of fat. For instance, bodybuilders with large amounts of muscle mass might be categorized as “obese” while those the BMI determines are “normal or healthy weight” could potentially have more harmful types of fat than individuals categorized as “overweight.” Further, Rachel Cortes, a research associate for the Population Reference Bureau, notes that individuals are sometimes diagnosed based on self-reported, inaccurate height and weight values. Even the smallest discrepancy could mean drastic changes in a BMI calculation. Cortes explains, “…children might not be concerned with their exact weight, leading to only a small margin of misreporting. However, a difference of even 1 inch and 7 pounds would reclassify a 10-year-old girl from being healthy to being overweight.”

Being labeled as “obese” is a serious medical diagnosis that could lead to low self-esteem, school bullying and/or depression. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

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Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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