Children's bmi checks - should they be done annually

Children’s BMI checks – should kids have them annually?

This week there’s been a new report out and lots of media discussion around children and obesity, with the report recommending children’s BMI checks annually.  This all ties in with discussions on sugar tax recommendations – in particular on sugary and fizzy drinks (I wonder if orange juice is included in these talks despite it being natural sugar and having nutritional benefits).

Children's bmi checks - should they be done annually

I’m of mixed view on the matter.  Overall I think there probably is something that needs to be done, and if it helps keep kids on the healthy size/eating track, then that’s a good thing. Yes, there’s the nanny state moans from people, that people (and parents) should be able to make their own decisions as to what it right for their children. But ultimately there is a problem with obesity and education methods so far doesn’t seem to be working very well.

As I see it, with obesity (of the eating too much and not exercising kind) is about choice and taking ownership.  As someone from a family where the middle aged females have always been overweight, I’ve allowed myself to get that way twice.  Once after moving in with the OH – not aided by my love of food, a 2 hour commute each day meaning reduced exercise, and eating portions that were more suitable for the OH who does a physical job and doesn’t need to think about what he eats.  It was easily lost through exercise and calorie counting.  Then after having N, I’ve spent the last 5 years trying to start a diet, but struggled with willpower and just ending up eating more of the food I love.

[bctt tweet=”Awareness and wanting to make a change to lose weight is personal choice…. timing of the choice is key”]

With a year off my 40th, that was it.  The reason to do it once and for all and lose the extra 6 stone over my maintainable healthy weight I should be at.  3 months in, I’ve lost 3 stone thanks to initially reviewing the New You plan but continuing it afterwards, and hopefully in another 4 or 5 months I’ll have got to goal weight and be maintaining a healthy weight.

But I would hate to see N be overweight, and I would do everything in my power to stop that from happening.  Luckily although he has a big appetite (and was always on the 91st centile as a baby), he’s so active that even a daily treat, and snacking all morning is just burned off quickly.  I’m hoping he has more of the OH’s genes where all the men seem to stay the same size into their 60s or 70s.

It’s quite often larger parents who have larger children…unhealthy eating habits at home will of course be the norm and teach children to eat the same way.  Sometimes children put on weight later on due to freedoms like having pocket money, walking to school past shops and being able to eat what they want when out and be able to hide it from parents at home (we always used to buy crisps, chocolate or ice lollies on the way home from school when we were at secondary – thankfully we were active enough not to worry about it).  This is where education needs to come in, especially where parents (and children) may be in denial that there’s a problem.

[bctt tweet=”Annual BMI checks for children – to be encouraged or too much and a nanny state?”]

I suspect this is where the annual BMI checks would come in.  They seem a better option than the writing of a letter which can be seen by parents as accusatory.  I can’t see parents allowing their children to have their BMI checked at school like a sight test or jabs might be done.

I remember going into 6th form when I changed from comprehensive to private school, and all new children had to have a health check during the first week.  We all went to the ‘San’ building, we had to get stripped to underwear and sit in dressing gowns until the school nurse checked each person’s height and weight, before getting dressed and the doctor checking various other health aspects.  With girls in the 6th form at a boys boarding school they wanted to keep an eye on the pupils health, but also watch out for potential eating disorders and any other issues with children away from home.  But I can’t see this happening at a state school.

So it would need to be via doctors’ surgeries which are already too busy, and how many people are realistically going to take their children for an annual health check when there’s nothing wrong with them and when they could stand them on the scales at home?

I do think children need to be kept an eye on with their weight along with other health checks like eye sight and the regular .  The only way you can do it is to have it as blanket checks so it can’t be seen as pointing the finger and singling people out.

My only real issue is how they would measure it…and with BMI it’s not always the most accurate way of measuring healthiness and fitness for adults, let alone children.  We all know how big burly but superfit rugby players all have BMIs well over the healthy range, and the same as some superfit athletes who weigh more but are all muscle.  And that compares with superskinny people who maybe be underweight or at the lower end of healthy BMI, but eat nothing or junk food and might have unhealthy fat unseen inside.

With children it’s a mystery to me on how BMI works.

N as a baby in a carrycot

While N was a big baby (9lb 5oz) and continued to be solid and one of the bigger ones in our NCT group, he was never an overweight child.  He eats loads,  a well balanced diet with plenty of nutrients, freshly made meals and variety, but he is given cake and other sweet treats.  His activity level is such (even including school) that everything is just burned off.  Although once he is less active at school with more sitting down learning, I’ll keep a watch out.


But he’s been pretty much the same weight since he was just over 2.  At 5 years old, he’s around 2 stone 9lb.  He’s in the right size clothes for his age, I need to pull in all his trouser waists, and sometimes he looks a little slimmer when he’s having a bit of a growth spurt.  But he’s normal for his age and probably middle end of the spectrum of his classmates.  Some are solid, some are slimmer, but not one of them looks chubby or unhealthy.  The larger boys are also the ones that do a lot of sport outside of school.

But if I plug in N’s weight, height, age and sex into BMI checkers online I get different results each time.

Children's BMI checks

The NHS BMI calculator shows him at the bottom end of the healthy BMI on the 3rd centile.  That’s probably about right from the way he looks and the way his clothes fit now he no longer has his toddler belly.  But I use another calculator and he comes out with a BMI of 29, saying he’s overweight which is madness for his size.

How can something be so extreme?  That’s my concern.

What measure will be used and will it be accurate with some leeway for background, genes, appetite, activities they do?

Will annual checks start to worry children, or will it just be another thing they do and not worry about it.  Maybe it could be good for healthy children to know there’s a good range for them to be in – maybe being told they’re healthy would stop them thinking wrongly that they’re fat, and dieting at a young age.  Or if it’s not accurate, you could end up with more eating disorders if children are told they’re obese when they’re not and they’d grow out of their baby fat naturally.

Will it really encourage parents to take a look at their children and make changes for them?  And potentially themselves if there’s an issue.  So much of healthy eating and healthy lifestyles comes from parents, so there’s no point trying to help the children if the parents don’t buy into it and make the changes themselves.

I’ll be watching out to see what more is said on the matter and if any changes come into play.

What are your thoughts?  Would you like to see children’s BMI checks introduced or are you against it?

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  1. This is a really interesting post and I actually do support checks – perhaps not annually, but maybe every two years.
    I think society as a whole has become more accepting of people being overweight and it’s a dangerous path to tread. People describe each other and themselves as curvy and that seems to make it OK, but it’s only OK in the sense that they feel happy and confident in their looks. It’s not OK in the sense that is fundamentally unhealthy and will almost certainly lead to problems later in life.
    It is time to make a change and if education isn’t working then maybe checks are a good idea.

  2. I can see why you have mixed feelings as I do myself. I thought they were moving away from the BMI scores as they weren’t accurate or a true reflection. But I guess there needs to be a standard measure – and cute baby pic btw – thanks for linking up to #pocolo

  3. I honestly hate the bmi checks they do at schools now, I have heard of so many children being distraught at being told they are overweight when they really aren’t.
    BMI is very outdated and doesn’t take build in to consideration at all. Neither of my boys are over or underweight, my eldest has his weight and height checked every 3 months at his Type 1 Diabetes clinic, but this is to check he is growing and thriving.
    Instead of school checks, I think there should be an additional health visitor or doctor visit at a specifically chosen age, so that the children and families who really do need help are given it. I don’t think sending letters home to growing girls telling their parents they are a few lbs overweight is helpful at all and encourages unhealthy body image.
    Children grown so fast, that a few lbs doesn’t mean anything.
    Stevie x
    P.S the sugar tax annoys me a bit, as we have to buy a lot of sugary drinks for treating low blood glucose, and moderation and education should be the key not making more of a profit from those who will still buy them x

  4. I think I would support this as long as there was also a comprehensive program in schools to teach children about healthy eating and weight. I would hate to see a rise in children eating disorders as a result of this.

  5. Luckily my son is still a bit too young for me to even have to think or worry about this. Its important to be aware of it of course

  6. When my son got his BMI he is okay. I remember being really thin as a child but when puberty hit that’s when I started being overweight so I am thinking how I can manage this with my son. I am always thinking of this on how to prevent my child from being over weight and bullied (I was bullied a lot). I think annual check is vital for me to know if my son is being over weight. #pocolo

  7. I was fuming when Isaac had his as they scored him overweight, purely beacuse a lot of swimming and has a lot of muscle. Luckily Eliza’s came back healthy but I think it varies from child to child

    1. You’re so right. Especially with really sporty children on sports where they are all muscle or even the other extreme and lightweight long distance runners. These need to be taken into account.

  8. I’m on the fence with this one a little. I have noticed though that you have put the wrong weight in your US BMI measurement which is why he’s coming out so high on that one! I only know because I am about 60kg and I’m quite a bit heavier than two stone!!

  9. Great, thought=provoking post. I have to say that I am going to go against the majority here and say that I think that this is a good idea – and, to stop it becoming an issue they should incorporate it into a nutritional education programme so it doesn’t look like they are being accusatory. They could make it part of PE – after all, that stands for physical eduction. Nothing to do with weight, but they got rid of the nit nurse and now I find that is a major issue in our school because some parents ignore it. Isn’t this a similar thing? #PoCoLo

  10. My thoughts are that BMI monitoring in healthy children isn’t necessarily a good thing…as it could make them body conscious and lead to negative body image. Let kids be kids, if intervention is needed then take steps then.

  11. Jenny gets weighed and her height taken by the hospital regularly because of her heart op. She’s so short for her age – easily the shortest in the nursery. She’s in the 9th percentile but she isn’t skinny. Just wee. Nobody’s ever mentioned a BMI for her. My thoughts are that it isn’t necessary.

    1. Yes if everything else in in balance then it shouldn’t be an issue. They’d have to take everything into account and not just bml which is so single focused

  12. I hate it. Completely hate it. My 3 year old is slim and is “underweight” according to his BMI. WE already assessed what he was eating and adjusted appropriately, but knowing he is “underweight” has made mealtimes a battleground which is the opposite of what we want. Food is for enjoyment and pleasure!

    1. That’s hard especially when they’re young. Often children just have small appetites and seem small, but are still healthy and are just eating enough for them – especially if it’s well balanced.

  13. seems a bit unnecessary to me. Childhood obesity is a problem, but not one that is going to be fixed in this manner. If a child is overweight to a problematic degree, I’m pretty sure the parents have noticed. Making healthier food cheaper and more available than junk would be helpful.

    1. There’s definitely the issue about junk food prices, but healthy food can be cheap. A lot of it is people unable to cook from scratch, or don’t know how to manage a food budget and make the most of food. I think there’s a lot of parents in denial and they’re the ones that are the problem because they’re not sending the right message to their children and could be ignoring the issue, especially if they themselves are overweight. I guess all the small things add up to help, but this does still have a lot of problems and other things that need taking into account.

  14. I worry about this sort of thing full stop. If I was at my bottom BMI figure I would actually look unhealthy. We put so much pressure on children, especially girls to be ‘thin’ that I think there is a very fine line to be trodden. It makes me so sad to see children who are clearly overweight although it’s all too easy for others to jump to conclusions about why they are larger. It might not just be an issue of diet and exercise. But it’s the parents who need dealing with in my opinion.

    1. Totally agree it’s the parents. They should know and understand what is healthy for their child and manage it, not ignoring any issues and relying on schools (or doctors/nurses who don’t have the time to see every child)

  15. I don’t have much faith in these ‘one size fits all’ tests. There are so many other considerations. One of my teenagers would technically fall into the ‘underweight’ category. He’s tall, lanky, and a runner – he eats like a horse, and he’s perfectly healthy 🙂 #PoCoLo

  16. I think if there are absolutely no concerns or a child looks a healthy weight, then they shouldn’t need these annual health checks to see what their BMI is. As you’ve quite rightly pointed out, BMI is so flawed in many ways and is hardly an indication of the true health of a child! 🙂

  17. I never really understand the BMI stuff. My BMI always reads I am overweight even though I’m the perfect weight for my body, and height. According to my doctor your BMI isn’t always going to come out right, for example Mine reads overweight because I’m big busted, which isn’t something I can control. I don’t think BMI should be golden, My daughter eats healthy, is a perfect weight in my eyes, and I have no concerns, should a BMI reading tell me otherwise, I wouldn’t be bothered by that. x

    1. Generally I think you’re right. Most children are visibly healthy whether they’re a little puppy fat chubby, or just slim built. As they get older it’s more important to understand the healthy range for them – allowing for general size, height, genes, fitness etc. I guess the aim is really to get those who at the extremes, and to find a way to persuade parents who are oblivious. I know of someone who would totally deny anything was unhealthy about their child, but they’re very different in size and shape to all the other children around them, and I’m sure there are lots of people around like that. Maybe it would help them recognise any potential issues and solve it before it gets too far

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