Understanding Growth Charts
You may be thinking: “Growth charts? Aren’t these the ones that my pediatrician uses to come up with what he calls percentiles? Why should I care?”
Actually, you should care! Growth measurement is the single measurement that best defines the health and nutritional status of children. It helps in understanding your child’s physical development over time and in comparison to other children.
Proper use of growth charts can point to the presence of serious illness before symptoms appear. These include for example medical issues related to absorption and digestion of food or others related to hormonal imbalances. More generally, growth charts will help with understanding if your child is achieving its optimal growth potential.
The growth charts that we use today are based on many years of medical research. They are based on three main parameters. These are weight, height and length. Properly understanding them only comes from looking at all three of them, in addition to their development over time.
During every well check, your pediatrician will take these measurements and plot them onto your child’s growth charts. Over time, the individual physical development pattern of your son or daughter will be revealed.
The longer the measurement period, the better you can see how a child has progressed. Most physicians need at least 12 months to establish a growth pattern. The more records are available, the better.
On each growth chart there is a series of lines curving from the lower left and climbing up to the right side of the chart. These lines represent “percentiles” that show what percent of children typically develop at the same rate. If your child is in the 5th percentile, 95 out of 100 children of the same sex and age, are taller than your child. If you child is in the 70th percentile, he or she is taller than 70 out of 100 children the same age and sex.
Please keep in mind that your child’s percentile doesn’t necessarily indicate how well they are growing. A child at the 5th percentile can be growing just as well as a child at the 95th percentile.
It is more important to look at your child’s growth over time. If he/she has always been at the 5th percentile, then he/she is likely growing normally. It would be concerning if your child had previously been at the 50th or 75th percentile and has now fallen down to the 25th or a lower percentile. It is not uncommon for children under the age of 2 to change percentiles. However, after this age, children should follow their growth curves fairly closely.
Keep in mind that many factors influence how children grow, including their genetic potential (how tall their parents and other family members are), underlying medical problems (such as congenital heart disease, kidney disease, syndromes, etc.), and their overall nutrition, which plays a major role in every child’s growth and development.
CDC and WHO growth charts: http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/
For more information on growth charts, contact Tabibi 24/7
Tabibi 24/7 is the leading pediatric service in Cairo, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and providing comprehensive pediatric care including sick visits, well-checks and vaccinations. Tabibi 24/7 also offers general and family medicine for adults and pediatric surgery.