Children's neck thickness could be better measure of obesity

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on July 22, 2010 at 5:55 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

A trip to the doctor's office can be pretty tough for some kids, especially when it comes time to measure body fat. But a new study says taking measurements a new way might be more accurate and less embarrassing.

Susan Keesecker watches her kids' weight by making sure they're eating healthy.

"It's a difficult balance between what your kids will eat, what they like, and what you should be feeding them," said Susan.

Doctors typically use the body mass index, or BMI, to calculate a child's body fat. It takes into account the child's height, weight and age.

But Dr. Laurie Berger says it isn't always accurate.

"It also doesn't account for muscle mass. So I have some real fit athletes who come in, very muscular, and they have elevated BMIs. They're healthy," said Dr. Berger.

Doctors are looking for new ways to measure childhood obesity.

Studies prove neck thickness and obesity are related in adults, and a new University of Michigan study shows, instead of checking the waistline, measuring the thickness of the neck might be a better way to see if your child is obese.

"The BMI is sort of an esoteric number that doesn't mean a whole lot to parents or kids," said Dr. Berger.

Dr. Berger says the study is promising, since measuring a child's neck is easy to do.

"Lots of people can do it. It's easier to replicate, it doesn't require the child being undressed," said Dr. Berger.

The research found that a 6-year-old boy with a neck circumference of more than 11.2 inches would be considered at risk of being overweight. For a 6-year-old girl, the cutoff is 10.6 inches. By age 18, the cutoffs would be 15.5 inches for boys, 13.6 inches for girls.

Susan plans to keep an eye on her kids' diet and their necks.

"It's just like anything else with your kids. You got to try and lead by example. Set the best one you can," said Susan.

The study will be published in the August issue of Pediatrics.

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