Good pediatricians have the best intentions. But that doesn’t mean they’re always right with what they advise. Children’s bodies differ drastically from one another, and what works for one child might not work for all. With obesity on the rise, doctors are urging patients to lose weight and get fit. In extreme cases, a well-intentioned pediatrician may inadvertently lead a child to develop disordered eating habits. Here’s what you should know about pediatricians and the risk of children’s eating disorders.

Body Mass Index

BMI refers to one’s “body mass index.” It is a way to measure a person’s body fat percentage based on their height and weight. Other factors that influence a person’s body fat percentage are gender and muscle mass. BMI does not consider these additional factors and therefore, it’s an unreliable way to accurately measure a person’s body fat percentage. Still, pediatricians and doctors continue to use BMI as a way to determine a patient’s health, which can lead to self-esteem and self-image issues down the road.

Healthy Advice?

If a child’s weight and height or BMI falls above the recommended range, a pediatrician may suggest that the patient lose weight. This is good advice for overweight children who are at risk for health problems. However, in some circumstances, this advice may do more harm than good. A child whose BMI falls above the recommended range may not be unhealthy—they may simply have a greater amount of muscle mass on their body, which weighs more than fat. Similarly, genetics play a role. When it comes to the number on the scale, what’s healthy for one child may differ for another based on genetic factors outside of their control.

Risk of Eating Disorders

When a healthy child receives weight loss advice that is unwarranted, they may become at risk for developing an eating disorder. Children may feel pressured to quickly lose weight, which could cause them to take drastic measures. A child may refrain from food altogether, or begin purging or taking laxatives to stop any possible weight gain.

Obesity is a major cause of concern for pediatricians. But weight loss isn’t always necessary. It’s essential that pediatricians consider all aspects of a child’s health, history before assuming they need to be put on a weight loss regimen. If they fail to do so, children may remain at risk for developing an eating disorder as a result of incorrect medical advice. Interested in learning more about children and eating disorders? We’re here to help. Contact us today.