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Childhood Obesity PreventionInternational Research, Controversies and Interventions$
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Jennifer A. O'Dea and Michael Eriksen

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199572915

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572915.001.0001

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High body mass index, overweight, and obesity in children: Definitions, terminology, and interpretation

High body mass index, overweight, and obesity in children: Definitions, terminology, and interpretation

(p.3) Chapter 1 High body mass index, overweight, and obesity in children: Definitions, terminology, and interpretation
Childhood Obesity Prevention

Katherine M. Flegal

Cynthia L. Ogden

Oxford University Press

Studies in a variety of countries have shown increases in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children in recent years. These increases have given rise to concern about children's health and well-being. The terminology used in these studies varies considerably. However, whatever the terminology used, such studies are generally based on weight (expressed as body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight for height, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) and not on body fatness per se. There are many different BMI references that can be used to define childhood overweight or obesity for population surveillance purposes using a variety of BMI cut-points. BMI is a screening tool, not a diagnostic tool. Children with a BMI over these cut-points do not necessarily have clinical complications or health risks related to over-fatness. More in-depth assessment of individual children is required to ascertain health status. The definitions based on BMI generally used are working definitions that are valuable for general public health surveillance, screening, and similar purposes. Terminology and measures used in studies of weight and adiposity in children and in adults is a complex area. Considerable confusion arises from the disparate uses of the descriptive terms ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ in children. Different reports may use the same term but define it quite differently. This chapter examines some of the definitions and terminology in use today and some of the underlying issues in arriving at consistent and coherent definitions.

Keywords:   body mass index, BMI, overweight, obesity, children, diagnosis, measurement, interpretation

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