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Is your child overweight? Charts will tell
Officials aim to head off health problems early
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reflecting growing national concern about overweight children, the federal government on Tuesday issued new pediatric growth charts to help parents and doctors identify children at risk of becoming obese.
The charts -- available on the Web at http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/ -- use weight and height information to calculate a child's Body Mass Index, a measure of body fat. A similar calculation is already available for adults.
A BMI in the 85th to 95th percentile means the child is considered at risk for being overweight. A boy or girl ranking above the 95th percentile is considered overweight.
Such conclusions, however, may not apply to athletic children who weigh more because of muscle, not fat.
"The (BMI) chart doesn't account for everything," acknowledges Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. But, she adds, it is "an early warning signal that is helpful as early as age two. This means that parents have an opportunity to change their children's eating habits before a weight problem ever develops."
Overall, about 10 percent of all U.S. children and half of the adults are overweight, Shalala told CNN. "Being concerned about what children eat when they're very young is important. It sets patterns for the long run."
But if bad nutritional habits go unchecked, they can lead to health problems, said Dr. Susan Baker, head of the nutrition committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Obesity is associated with diabetes, with heart disease, with high blood pressure," Baker said. "We're hopeful having the BMI available to us will focus us, as pediatricians, on this trend and help us intervene early." (173K AIFF or WAV sound)
Reversing the trend toward overweight children means raising public awareness of the problem, Baker told CNN, with the new charts being just one, small step in that direction. "The solutions will not be simple. We won't have a shot or pill or anything," she said.
Perhaps the best advice is the simplest. Said Shalala: "Do everything in moderation."
Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.
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