Overweight and Obesity

Almost 25 per cent of Australian children are considered overweight. Obesity predisposes children to a range of serious medical conditions including insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease.

Overweight children are at risk of low self-esteem, negative self-image and social isolation.

Body mass index (BMI) is the standard tool to assess child overweight and obesity. Unlike adults where a single BMI can be applied across all ages, BMI for children depends on age and stage of growth.

  • Overweight equals or is greater than the 85th centile on BMI chart.
  • Obese equals or is greater than the 95th centile on BMI chart.

BMI as a secondary screen is recommended in children from two years of age, with a goal to identify as early as possible children who may be at risk of overweight and obesity with a view to prevent obesity rather than reverse it. For further information, see: BMI Education Resource

Maternal and child health nurses play an important role in the early identification, assessment and management of overweight children.

The following strategies may be helpful in preventing obesity, and are known to promote other aspects of child health and well being.

Family approaches to childhood obesity prevention:

  • Foster healthy family eating patterns
  • Limit TV viewing
  • Encourage outdoor play
  • Encourage breastfeeding
  • Limit consumption sugar-sweetened drinks

Available parent nutrition and physical activity tipsheets include:

For more health and development information, see: Resources for Families

Activity I

Sophie is a two-year-old girl attending the Key Ages and Stages consultation. Her current weight is 14.9 kg on standing scales and her height is 90.5 cm. Her previous weights are: 8.7 kg at eight months, and 12.1 at 18 months.

Figure I.1 shows Sophie's weight for age plotted on the WHO chart. Weight appears to be increasing from the 75th centile at eight months to the 98th centile at 24 months. Sophie's length also should be considered.

Figure I.2 shows Sophie's current height is 90.5 cm. Previous length measurements are: 71 cm at eight months, and 84 cm at 18 months. Sophie's length also appears to be increasing from the 75th centile to the 90th centile. Now plot Sophie's weight and height on the CDC charts.

Figure I.1 and Figure I.2 - visual representation of the previous paragraphs

Figure I.1 WHO birth to 24 month weight for age, girl
Source: World Health Organisation Child Growth Standards
Figure I.2 WHO birth to 24 months length for age, girl
Source: World Health Organisation Child Growth Standards

Figure I.3 and Figure I.4 - visual representation of the previous paragraphs

Figure I.3 CDC 2 to 18 year old weight for age, girl
Source: Developed by the National Center for Health Statistics in collaboration with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2000).
Figure I.4 CDC 2 to 18 year old height for age, girl
Source: Developed by the National Center for Health Statistics in collaboration with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2000).

As Sophie's weight and height have been increasing on centiles, and are now around the 98th centile, her BMI can be calculated and plotted as a secondary screen. Sophie's BMI is 18.4.

Figure I.5 shows Sophie's BMI plotted on the CDC BMI for age chart. Her BMI is between the 85th and 95th centile, therefore is considered overweight. Her growth should be reviewed in one to two months' time. Refer to: Discussing BMI with Parents

Figure I.5 CDC 2 to 18 year old BMI for age, girl

Figure I.5 CDC 2 to 18 year old BMI for age, girl
Source: Developed by the National Center for Health Statistics in collaboration with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2000).

For further information, see: Overweight and Obesity (pdf - 76.42kb)