Pediatricians have several different tools they can use to measure your child's health. One of the most powerful among them is the growth chart.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to make sense of all those lines and numbers — if you've felt this before, you're not alone. Here's some valuable insight into how to decode and better understand your child's chart.
A Window Into Your Child's Health
The growth chart might seem like just another piece of paper, but it's packed with several important insights. On the surface, it can look like these charts are simply about height and weight; however, growth is an indicator of many aspects of your child's health and well-being, such as cognitive development, immunity and nutrition status.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
The growth chart uses a set of measurements, called percentiles, to compare your child's weight, height and head size (in the case of infants) to those of other children of the same age and sex. The higher the percentile, the larger a child is compared to their peers. Conversely, the lower the percentile, the smaller the child. For example, if your child is in the 75th percentile for height, that means they are taller than 75% of kids their age. Kids of average height for their age based on WHO Child growth standards would measure in the 50th percentile.
It's natural to assume bigger is better, but that's not necessarily the case. Many factors influence a child's size, including genetics, diet, and even their environment. Instead of focusing on a specific goal, pediatricians are far more interested in each child's individual growth trend.
For instance, a child who has consistently been in the 30th percentile for height or weight might be experiencing perfectly healthy growth; however, if that number were to suddenly drop to the 15th percentile or below, further investigation might make sense.
Adding Up the Numbers
Because children experience different rates of growth according to their age, there are two basic types of growth charts. The first is designed for newborns and babies up to age 2, while the other is for kids and young adults between the ages of 2 and 20.
At every wellness visit, your pediatrician will measure your child's height and weight to keep close tabs on their growth trend. Then, they'll plot these figures on the chart. You don't have to wait until your child's next appointment to learn the results. You can download the same charts they use and plot the results yourself.
1. Locate a growth chart on the Centers for Disease Control website for your child's age and sex.
2. Locate your child's age at the top of the chart. Then, draw a vertical line from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.
3. Next, find your child's weight or height on the left side of the page. Draw a horizontal line from left to right.
4. Make a dot where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.
5. Find the curve that is closest to the dot; this is your child's percentile.
Should your child fall behind on growth, their pediatrician might be able to review to determine if there is reason for concern and/or provide suggestions to help support healthy growth, including recommendations for ways to incorporate extra calories and nutrients into your child's diet to support optimal growth. One option they might suggest is an oral nutrition supplement such as PediaSure®. Packed with 7 grams of protein and 27 vitamins and minerals per 8-ounce bottle, PediaSure has been clinically proven to help kids grow.*
A family’s pediatrician likely has plenty of other suggestions for ways to promote healthy growth for kids. If you are ever worried that your child might be falling behind, or if you just have questions about healthy growth, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with a doctor.
*Studied in children at risk for malnutrition
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