Chubby and cute? Or frighteningly fat? So-called “love handles” on toddlers, teens and adults can indicate that problems are ahead.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is an indicator that can effectively show whether body fat has reached levels of concern. Medical professionals agree that it should be a critical vital sign measured in every routine medical exam.

It is generally agreed that a BMI of 17-22 is optimal for many people. Research has shown that adults with a BMI in this range will statistically be likely to have a longer-than-average life span. If your BMI is calculated in the 25-29.9 range, then you are typically considered to be “overweight,” that is, heavier than your ideal weight. If one's BMI is calculated at 30 or above, then that person is considered to be in an “obese” condition, which carries a number of health and medical concerns.

Body Mass Index (BMI).

BMI is calculated from a person's height and weight. (A child's ideal BMI is dependent upon their age. Also, people who are in top athletic condition or who have high muscle density may test differently using a traditional BMI calculator). Two online BMI calculators for children and adults from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) appear to the left and may be useful to help you determine your general BMI.

Honestly done (many of us have a tendency to discount a few pounds or more), BMI provides a reliable indication of the percent of body fat a person may be carrying around. More importantly, BMI generally is used to determine whether a person is within a normal healthy weight range, or whether the person has gained sufficient weight to be considered overweight or obese. Both the conditions of being overweight or being obese carry potentially bad medical consequences, including the early onset of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other conditions.

What once might have been viewed as chubby and cute may well indicate that a young toddler or child may face the consequences of childhood obesity later in life. Your pediatrician, family doctor or medical professional can provide more information and help you effectively calculate your or your child's BMI. If you are personally concerned about the possibility of obesity or its consequences, always consult your doctor or qualified medical professional.

Conditions of overweight, or even obesity, can be reversed through healthy changes in diet and lifestyle.