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Training Module: Using the BMI-for-Age Growth Charts

Recommended BMI-for-age cutoffs
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5. Recommended BMI-for-age Cutoffs

BMI (kg/m2) Classification

> 95th percentile

85th to < 95th percentile
5th to < 85th percentile Healthy Weight
< 5th percentile

In 2004, an expert committee (Barlow, 2007) comprised of representatives from 15 national health care organizations was convened and charged with revising the 1998 recommendations on the evaluation and treatment of child and youth obesity (Barlow and Dietz, 1998). The expert committee recommended classifying BMI at the 85th to 95th percentiles for age and sex to identify children or teens who are overweight, and a BMI greater than or equal to the 95th percentile to identify children or teens who are obese (Barlow, 2007). These cut points are unchanged from the 1998 expert committee recommendations (Barlow and Dietz, 1998).

  • The rationale for the use of these criteria is that a BMI at the 95th percentile in the U.S. population corresponds to a BMI of 30 in a young adult. In a young adult, a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is considered obesity.
  • A BMI at the 85th percentile in a young adult identifies a young adult with a BMI of 25, which is considered at the top end of a healthy weight classification.
  • Therefore, the criterion used for children and teens corresponds (roughly) to the criteria used for adults to identify overweight and obesity.

The cutoff for underweight of less than the 5th percentile of BMI-for-age is based on recommendations by the World Health Organization Expert Committee on Physical Status (World Health Organization, 1996).


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Information about adult BMI classifications.

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Read more about the sensitivity, specificity, and validity of BMI-for-age to screen children for increased fatness.


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