July 6, 2010 -- Measuring the circumference of a child's neck may be a new way to help screen youngsters who may be overweight or obese, a new study shows.
Researchers took measurements of more than 1,100 youths ages 6-18 and found that neck circumference correctly identified a high proportion of young children and adolescents who are overweight or obese.
This simple method, the researchers write, may be a better identifying tool because body mass index (BMI) does not reliably describe distribution of abdominal fat or deep belly fat.
Body mass index is calculated using height and weight measurements. In children, BMI charts take into account sex and age.
Olubukola Nafiu, MD, and colleagues from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor determined age- and sex-specific cutoff measurements to screen for children who are overweight or obese.
For example, a 6-year-old boy with a neck circumference measurement of over 11.2 inches is 3.6 times more likely to be overweight or obese than a boy of the same age with a measurement below that cutoff point.
The researchers conclude that neck circumference can be used as a reliable tool to identify youngsters with high body mass indexes. Neck circumference was measured with a flexible tape, with the children in a standing position and their heads held erect. This method was a better indicator in boys than girls.
"Obesity is arguably the most serious chronic health problem facing children in the United States and has been aptly described as a potential cause for the decline in life expectancy during the 21st century," the researchers write. "One of the first steps toward controlling the childhood obesity epidemic is to make available monitoring tools that are low-cost, quick and easy to use and generally acceptable to both patients and health practitioners."
One reason neck circumference is a better measure is that it is easier to measure. The researchers say that neck circumference has been shown to correlate with BMI in adults.
The study appears online in advance of publication in the August print issue of Pediatrics.