Can Toddlers Be Overweight?

Can Toddlers Be Overweight?

Worried about your toddler or preschooler’s weight? When it is a cause for concern and why.

You may find it hard to believe, but even toddlers and preschoolers can be overweight. And you can’t always rely on yourself as a parent to recognize it.

It’s hard to tell whether a child is a healthy weight just by looking. Parents, and even some doctors, may think a healthy-weight child is underweight. Or they may tend to underestimate weight gain in children, says Chris Tiongson, MD, pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Health in Fargo, N.D. “Sometimes our eyes fool us,” says Tiongson. “It might be because family members or friends are heavier, too.”

Toddler’s Weight and BMI

This is why growth charts come in handy, Tiongson says. Pediatricians use them and something called body mass index (BMI) to determine if your child may be overweight.

You can start calculating body mass index (BMI) as early as age 2. Kids’ BMIs are based on height and weight, like adult BMIs. But then that number is taken and placed on a growth chart to account for your child’s age and gender because, unlike adults, kids are still growing. The ending result is not a plain BMI number but rather a BMI percentile. That percentile is also called “BMI for age.”

BMI percentiles show where your child’s weight falls compared to other kids of the same age and gender. For instance, if your toddler’s BMI is in the 75th percentile, she is heavier than 75% of toddlers her age. But at the 75th percentile, she is still in the healthy weight zone.

Here’s how kids’ BMI percentiles break down:

  • Underweight: less than the 5th percentile
  • Healthy Weight: 5th percentile up to the 85th percentile
  • Overweight: 85th percentile up to the 95th percentile
  • Obese: 95th percentile or greater

Doctors pay attention to potential weight issues if the BMI is below the 5th percentile. A child with BMI percentile lower than that could be underweight.

Tiongson says pediatricians also look for potential weight issues when a toddler’s BMI percentile is over the 85th percentile — that’s the top limit of the healthy weight range. Toddlers with a BMI percentile higher than the 85th could be overweight. These children are heavier than 85% of children their same age.

And, Tiongson says, pediatricians definitely take note when a child’s BMI reaches the 95th percentile. At that point, your toddler may be obese.

Working With Your Pediatrician

If your child’s pediatrician hasn’t talked with you about your toddler’s weight, it’s a good idea to ask. You could say: “Is my child an appropriate weight for her height and age?”

Ask your pediatrician to track your child’s BMI and to let you know if there are signs of a troublesome trend, such as excessive weight gain compared to your child’s increase in height.

When does a toddler’s weight become a problem? A child who is older than 1 1/2 years and still chubby may raise concern, says Joseph A. Zenel, Jr., MD, director of the Pediatric Residency Program in the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls, S.D.

That’s because obesity can be triggered during early stages of development, such as:

  • The first year of life
  • From preschool to school age
  • During adolescence

It turns out rapid weight gains without growth in height, even in low-weight kids as young as 2, can set children up for a risk of prediabetes or diabetes as young adults.

That’s why now is a good time to help your toddler develop healthy lifestyle habits. Your child’s toddler years are when you have the most control over what he eats and how often he is physically active. Set a foundation that will help your child grow at a healthy rate.
The above article is a WebMD Feature
By Annie Stuart
Reviewed By Roy Benaroch, MD
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