BMI Test For Babies? Children At Risk Of Obesity Can Be Identified At Six Months Old, Doctors Say

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Doctors say that performing Body Mass Index (BMI) tests on infants may be a way to determine a child’s future risk of obesity. While BMI tests are usually not performed on infants, a doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has determined that the tests may prove helpful in identifying children at risk of adulthood obesity.

The Daily Mail reports that Dr. Allison Smego from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is using BMI testing on infants to identify which children are at the highest risk of obesity later in childhood or adulthood. While BMI testing of children may be controversial, Dr. Smego notes that many children have a high risk of obesity throughout their lifetime and that they should be monitored by doctors for metabolic disease.

“These children have a high lifetime risk for persistent obesity and metabolic disease and should be monitored closely at a very young age.”

The BMI tests are performed on the infant at six months, 12 months or 18 months and their results are compared to the national BMI average for infants that age. If the child clocks in on the upper 15th percentile they are most likely to be severely obese at the age of 6-years-old.

“The infants with the top 15 per cent of BMI measurements at six months, 12 months and 18 months were the most likely to be severely obese when they were six years old.”

To perform the experiment on babies and Body Mass Index testing, Dr. Smego split 1,263 children into two separate groups based on BMI test results. She then looked at the health records of each child and created a data set for each child’s risk of obesity. The doctor discovered that a child who had a high BMI starting at four months of age was more likely of being obese later in childhood.

Dr. Smego presented her finding to the Endocrine Society in Boston noting that early detection of obesity risk factors could provide children with the ability for best possible health by providing early monitoring.

“Pediatricians can identify high-risk infants with BMI above the 85th percentile and focus additional counselling and education regarding healthy lifestyles toward the families of these children. Our hope in using this tool is that we can prevent obesity in early childhood.”

Though Dr. Smego is hopeful of a potential future in which obesity can be prevented thanks to early infant BMI testing, not everyone agrees. The criticisms for BMI stem from the fact that the tests don’t take into account muscle mass. Instead, the test relies strictly on a height to weight ratio. This means that someone with high muscle mass such as weightlifter or sports player in good health may be considered “obese” due to the nature of the testing. Therefore, some are questioning the relevance to an infant as some children may have higher muscle mass.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health in Great Britain, notes that anytime a child’s weight is being criticized it should be done with the utmost of care and caution. Regarding a National Health Service program in the U.K. in which each child aged 5 to 11 has BMI testing done and results sent to parents, Cramer says that sensitivity must be used.

“Any feedback on a child’s weight provided at such an early stage should be done with the greatest caution and sensitivity, and only with constructive support – whilst this is the most effective time to intervene, we must also be careful to avoid suggesting that obesity is irreversibly determined by this point.”

While infants will not have body issues at such a young age, do you see potential for negative impacts on BMI testing for babies? What do you think about Dr. Smego’s research? Would you consider BMI testing for your infant?

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