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Two Numbers Offer Clearer Picture of Your Child’s Health

January 14, 2021

From the moment your child is born, each visit to the doctor will start off with height and weight measurements that will be used to track growth and monitor for potential health risks. Where your child falls within this doctor-recommended range can be useful, but are there better indicators of your child’s overall health? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the answer is yes. 

Body Mass Index (BMI) Tracks Change

The number your child is given for these charts is called a BMI (Body Mass Index) and is determined by calculating age, weight, height and gender. Easily established during an office visit, this number gives doctors a trackable history of a child’s overall general wellness and helps identify any changes that could signal more serious health concerns. A child whose BMI falls within the 5th to 85th percentile for their age and height generally is considered healthy, but this number can fluctuate as children age and mature. Although measured differently from adult BMI, both monitor weight levels to ward off issues such as obesity, diabetes and asthma. 

Physical Activity Tracks Health

While a child’s BMI offers a baseline for comparison, doctors will look at a variety of physical fitness-based components to get a more complete picture of your child’s overall health. One important measure is cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), which helps determine how well the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems provide energy during activity. Two children with similar BMIs can have distinctly different CRF levels, which can be assessed by running, climbing stairs or swimming. Muscular fitness and flexibility tests both provide measures of endurance and musculoskeletal strength. And body composition tests will break down the body’s weight into fat, lean body mass and water percentages, providing a truer indicator of potential obesity.

Tips to Keep Your Child Physically Fit

Creating healthy habits is key to maintaining strong physical fitness levels. Recommendations include:

  • Eating a well-rounded, low-sugar, low-fat diet that includes five daily servings of fruits and vegetables — even at breakfast

  • Reducing screen time to under two hours a day (not including online learning requirements). 

  • Maintain an active lifestyle. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends children get at least one hour daily of moderate to vigorous activity. 

With COVID-19 restrictions reducing, or eliminating, school-based physical education classes and balanced meal options — while online learning keeps kids sitting at computers — reaching these goals is more challenging. You can help by keeping snacks and sugary drinks off your grocery lists. Turn off the TV and encourage a family bike ride or walk around the block. And a neighborhood game of kickball or hopscotch is a good alternative to a canceled team sports practice. With a little creativity, reaching (and even exceeding) healthy physical fitness levels can be fun, too!

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