Is My Child Overweight?

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Recently I wrote an article for TIME about the struggle between parents and pediatricians when a child is too heavy. Many well-intentioned parents, it seems, don’t recognize signs that their own kid is overweight, especially when the child is still young (say, before adolescence). This parental ignorance may itself be because a consequence of the dramatic increase in childhood obesity. Now that 17% of kids are obese, according to national stats, a kid who’s a little chubby just doesn’t look very different from his or her peers.

Not surprisingly, it can drive doctors up the wall when parents don’t recognize a weight problem. But childhood obesity is legitimately confusing. Because the optimal relationship of weight to height is different at different ages and stages of development, parents can find it tough to judge a child’s weight status just by looking. If you’re at all uncertain about how your child stacks up, follow these simple steps to find out:

1) Measure your child’s height without shoes, and his or her weight without shoes or bulky clothing.

2) Use an online body-mass-index calculator for kids. (There are loads of these around. You could use this one, for example.) That site will calculate the same BMI statistic that adults use, but will judge the number against a scale that’s appropriate for your child’s sex and age.

And, presto, there’s your answer. If a child is both young and a little overweight, don’t panic just yet. Talk to your doctors. Often these kids don’t need to lose weight, but rather just stabilize weight while they continue to grow taller.