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Body Mass Index for Children

BMI is Used Differently with Children Than it is With Adults

In children and teens, body mass index is used to assess underweight, overweight, and risk for overweight. Children's body fatness changes over the years as they grow. Also, girls and boys differ in their body fatness as they mature. This is why BMI for children, also referred to as BMI-for-age, is gender and age specific.1, 2 BMI-for-age is plotted on gender specific growth charts. These charts are used for children and teens 2 – 20 years of age.

Each of the CDC BMI-for-age gender specific charts contains a series of curved lines indicating specific percentiles. Healthcare professionals use the following established percentile cutoff points to identify underweight and overweight in children.

  Underweight BMI-for-age < 5th percentile
  At risk of overweight BMI-for-age 85th percentile
to < 95th percentile
  Overweight BMI-for-age > 95th percentile
BMI decreases during the preschool years, then increases into adulthood. The percentile curves show this pattern of growth.
What does it mean if my child is in the 60th percentile?

The 60th percentile means that compared to children of the same gender and age, 60% have a lower BMI.

Let's look at the BMI for a boy as he grows. While his BMI changes, he remains at the 95th percentile BMI-for-age.

Age BMI Percentile
2 years 19.3 95th
4 years 17.8 95th
9 years 21.0 95th
13 years 25.1 95th

We see how the boy's BMI declines during his preschool years and increases as he gets older.

BMI for Boys

Why is BMI-for-age a useful tool?
BMI-for-Age is used for children and teens because of their rate of growth and development. It is a useful tool because

  • BMI-for-age provides a reference for adolescents that can be used beyond puberty.
  • BMI-for-age in children and adolescents compares well to laboratory measures of body fat.
  • BMI-for-age can be used to track body size throughout life.

Back to Body Mass Index

Buy The Book This Site Is Based On
U.S. Army Field Manual 21-20 is the source material for this website. A soldier's level of physical fitness has a direct impact on his combat readiness. The many battles in which American troops have fought under-score the important role physical fitness plays on the battlefield. The renewed nationwide interest in fitness has been accompanied by many research studies on the effects of regular participation in sound physical fitness programs. The overwhelming conclusion is that such programs enhance a person's quality of life, improve productivity, and bring about positive physical and mental changes. Not only are physically fit soldiers essential to the Army, they are also more likely to have enjoyable, productive lives, and you can too.

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