Neck size may indicate kids’ body fat

Measuring
the width of a child’s neck could be a quick and easy way to flag a child as
potentially overweight, according to new research.

It
could become a useful tool for both parents and doctors to get a fast gauge of
a child’s possible body fat, said Olubukola Nafiu, a paediatric anaesthesiologist
at the University of Michigan medical school who led the study.

In
a study of more than 1,000 children ages six to 18, Dr. Nafiu found a high
correlation between bigger neck measures, high Body Mass Index and waist
measurements.

This
suggests that one day doctors could skip Body Mass Index calculations, which
are determined by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of
their height in metres, which some consider an imperfect indicator.

Based
on neck measurements, doctors could move immediately to more accurate
techniques used to diagnose obesity, such as skin-fold thickness measurements,
evaluations of diet and physical activity and family history.

The
research found that a 6-year-old boy with a neck circumference of more than
28.5 centimetres would be considered at risk of being overweight. For a
6-year-old girl the cut-off is 27 centimetres.

By
age 18, the cut-offs would be 39cm and 34.6cm, respectively. The measurements
were done with a flexible tape measure at the thyroid cartilage, also known as
the Adam’s apple.

Measuring
the neck could be a more practical tool than either the Body Mass Index or
waist measurements for both the doctor and the child, says Dr. Nafiu. For one
thing, it can be hard to gather both height and weight properly in busy medical
settings.

And
neck measurements don’t require kids to remove clothing or be subjected to a
doctor putting his arms around them to take a waist measurement.

It
might also be a less abstract warning to parents.

“For
years we’ve been using BMI and it hasn’t really made a big dent on the
prevalence of overweight and obesity in children,” he says. “If you tell
parents ‘your child’s neck is this wide, these are some of the problems
associated with a wide neck.’ These are things people can relate to.”

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