Objective: To examine the associations among several body mass index (BMI) metrics (z-scores, percent of the 95th percentile (%BMIp95) and BMI minus 95th percentile (ΔBMIp95) as calculated in the growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is known that the widely used BMI z-scores (BMIz) and percentiles calculated from the growth charts can differ substantially from those that directly observed in the data for BMIs above the 97th percentile (z = 1.88).
Study design: Cross-sectional analyses of 8.7 million 2- to 4-year-old children who were examined from 2008 through 2011 in the CDC's Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System.
Results: Because of the transformation used to calculate z-scores, the theoretical maximum BMIz varied by >3-fold across ages. This results in the conversion of very high BMIs into a narrow range of z-scores that varied by sex and age. Among children with severe obesity, levels of BMIz were only moderately correlated (r ~ 0.5) with %BMIp95 and ΔBMIp95. Among these children with severe obesity, BMIz levels could differ by more than 1 SD among children who had very similar levels of BMI, %BMIp95 and ΔBMIp95 due to differences in age or sex.
Conclusions: The effective upper limit of BMIz values calculated from the CDC growth charts, which varies by sex and age, strongly influences the calculation of z-scores for children with severe obesity. Expressing these very high BMIs relative to the CDC 95th percentile, either as a difference or percentage, would be preferable to using BMI-for-age, particularly when assessing the effectiveness of interventions.
Keywords: children; obesity.
Published by Elsevier Inc.