New reference curves for children's body fat are being launched in September. They will be used primarily in NHS clinics treating overweight or obese children but also by primary care staff to help every child understand their weight gain as he/she goes through puberty. You will notice the marked gender differences as girls continue to gain fat but boys gain more muscle and lean tissue as their body fat reduces. Quite apart from assisting in the management of overweight/obesity, they may be invaluable in persuading girls that putting on fat in puberty is a biological norm and dissuading them from becoming anorexic. For the time being the charts are available only from Tanita UK Ltd* or on Child Growth Foundation's training courses to identify the early signs of obesity.
Specialist equipment is required to calculate body fat and the bio-electrical impedance analyser [BIA] is the most practical - see the shop. With the child standing on the instrument's sensitive footplates, a safe electrical signal is sent around the child's lower abdomen measuring everything it encounters on the way. The system is based on the fact that lean tissues, such as muscle and blood, contain high levels of water and electrolytes which act as electrical signal conductors. BIA provides basal metabolic rate, fat-free mass, total body water and BMI [body mass index] readings as well as body fat percentages. It should therefore be considered an essential tool for any children's or sports centre caring for health or fitness.