More than a third of American children struggle with being overweight or obese, conditions that are defined by having a BMI higher than 85 percent of children their ages. Obesity in childhood is a major danger sign, as it increases risk of heart disease and diabetes later in life.

To determine whether your child is at a healthy weight, the quickest and easiest tool physicians have available is BMI. By checking the ratio of height to weight, your pediatrician can use BMI to determine whether your child is underweight, at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

Once your child’s BMI is calculated, you can check with your pediatrician to see if this number is in the right range for your child’s age and body type. You can also check this yourself by using online BMI calculators and charts.

Some critics of BMI have observed that if a person is extremely heaving in muscle, the BMI shows them as obese. For children, it’s always important for pediatricians to consider other criteria, too.

“The BMI is a great tool, but I use a couple other factors to put that number into context,” said Joel Steelman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Cook Children’s. “It’s important to also evaluate the build of the child and the family history to get a more accurate picture of overall health rather than just a general number.”

Checking your child’s cholesterol

Most people are aware that high cholesterol in adults can lead to heart disease. Evidence also suggest that children with high cholesterol will likely struggle with the same issues later in life.

Children at risk of high cholesterol can begin screenings as young as age 2. If a child is overweight, has a parent with high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, cholesterol screenings need to begin at least by age 10.

“High cholesterol in children is reversible,” said Dr. Steelman.” Parents need to make sure their kids are eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, as well as getting their rates up through regular activity.”

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