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Understanding Growth Charts

Posted 7/14/2016 by UHBlog

Do you need help understanding your child's growth chart and what it says about their health? Ask us.

Understanding Growth Charts

Growth is an important indicator of your child’s health and well-being. That’s why, at every doctor’s visit, your child’s weight and height measurements are tracked on a standardized measurement tool called a growth chart. That information is then converted into a percentage that reflects how well your child is growing against the averages of other children the same age.

But why exactly are those percentile numbers important?

According to pediatrician Dieter Sumerauer, MD, the growth charts aren't like a grade or test score. Instead, they help doctors track your child’s individual growth patterns over the years.

“Parents tend to get caught up on percentile numbers, but those numbers at any one point in time aren't that important,” he says. “What we’re most concerned about is that a child is growing and tracking consistently.”

If your child has regularly tracked at either the higher or lower end of the growth scale for most of their life, doctors see no reason for worry. What pediatricians are really looking for when they study the growth charts are a sudden swing in percentiles.

“Big shifts are red flags,” Dr. Sumerauer says, and might prompt your child's doctor to look for underlying issues, such as nutritional deficiencies or endocrine disorders.

There are a number of factors that contribute to your child’s height and weight, including:

  • Genetic makeup
  • Family history
  • Development stage

Also, if you or your partner were late bloomers developmentally or if your child was born prematurely, that could affect their growth. Dr. Sumerauer recommends letting your child’s doctor know.

Growth charts are also helpful in following your child’s body mass index (BMI), which is an important screening tool for both obesity and malnutrition. Like your child's weight and height measurements, their BMI results are also given in percentiles.

If your child or teen has a BMI:

  • Less than the 5th percentile, they are considered underweight
  • Between the 5th percentile and less than the 85th percentile, they are at a healthy weight
  • In the 85th percentile to less than the 95th percentile, they are considered overweight
  • Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile, they are considered obese

“The results can help start and spark important conversations about nutrition and health,” Dr. Sumerauer says. For instance, if your child weighs in at either the higher or lower end of this scale, your doctor may require more visits and monitoring.

If you're confused about any of these measurements, it's important to talk to your child’s doctor, says Dr. Sumerauer.

“Good questions to ask are, 'Is my child trending consistently? Is his weight good for his height? Is his body mass index good?'” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask what any of those numbers mean.”

Dieter Sumerauer, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Pediatric and Adolescent Health Professionals in Middleburg Heights, and regional medical director for Rainbow Primary Care Institute. You can request an appointment with Dr. Sumerauer or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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