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Keywords:

  • cerebral palsy;
  • growth;
  • intellectual disability;
  • obesity;
  • Prader–Willi syndrome;
  • underweight

Aim:  To assess the recording of weight and height in children with disabilities and identify subgroups at risk of being either underweight or overweight.

Methods:  A retrospective clinical audit was undertaken within the Department of Developmental Medicine at The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne. Most recent weight and height measurements and data about the child's underlying condition were collected from the medical records of children attending a clinical appointment over a 3-month period. Primary medical diagnosis, age, gender, mode of feeding and ability to ambulate were recorded. Body mass index was calculated and corrected for age and gender.

Results:  Study sample size was 583 (356 males), mean age was 8.25 years (range 2.8–17.4 years). Body mass index could be calculated for 48%. Height was less commonly measured in those with severe physical impairments. A survey of barriers to weight and height measurement showed that the main barrier to measuring height was practical difficulties. The percentage of children classified as overweight/obese was 26.6% and this was associated with intellectual disabilities, moderately impaired ambulation, older age and female gender; 13.5% of the study group was underweight, the majority of whom were non-ambulant.

Conclusions:  Although significant rates of underweight and overweight were identified in children with a range of disabilities within our service, monitoring of weight status was suboptimal. Despite this, data indicate that specific subgroups of children with disability appear at risk of being either overweight or underweight. Where height cannot be measured, other anthropometric measures such as waist circumference may be useful in the assessment of children with disabilities.