View All Articles

Growth Charts: What They Mean for Your Child’s Health

As a parent, it’s easy to worry about whether your child is hitting their growth and developmental milestones. One data-based developmental marker, the pediatric growth chart, is the most commonly used indicator but is also the most misunderstood. 

Your child’s percentile is not a grade toward success. The doctor is not looking for your child to reach a higher score. These numbers serve as the starting point for your pediatrician to monitor your child’s growth and to help identify any significant shifts — upward or downward — that might indicate developmental health issues.

What Does the Growth Chart Measure? 

Tracked statistics include:

  • Age

  • Height or length (WHO chart)

  • Weight

  • Head circumference (WHO chart)

  • Body mass index or BMI (CDC chart). 

A growth chart is not the only diagnostic tool your pediatrician uses. Other indicators of your child’s developmental health include the genetics of the parents, gestational birth age, ethnicity and any disorder, such as Down syndrome,  that might be reflected in the data. 

As your child grows, their pediatrician will use additional assessments, such as cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) tests, which track circulatory and respiratory health; and body composition testing, which breaks down weight into body fat and lean body mass, to monitor their health. 

How To Read a Growth Chart 

At each appointment, your child’s information will be pinpointed on a standardized, gender-based growth curve that reflects a wide swath of data collected from healthy kids – the World Health Organization’s growth chart is for children ages 0 to 2, and the CDC growth chart is for children ages 2 to 19.

This point on the graph is then delivered as a percentile, indicating the percentage of same-aged children your child exceeded for that measurement. For example, a child whose height is measured at the 90th percentile is taller than 90 percent of the healthy children tracked at that age. 

What If Your Child Veers Off Their Curve? 

The primary goal of the growth chart is to flag any marked shifts in how your child’s growth is progressing, sometimes even before other conditions present themselves. Many factors can lead to percentile increases or decreases, including caloric or nutritional intake, environmental problems, hormonal changes and even chronic diseases that are otherwise asymptomatic. Minor shifts during the maturing process are also normal. 

But if a larger change occurs, your doctor will delve more deeply into determining the cause. Evaluations might include: 

  •  Diet.  You might be asked to closely monitor what your child eats and any complications noted during the process. Their weight change, for example, might not be because they are a picky eater. They might have issues with swallowing because of structural abnormalities or digestive problems stemming from allergies.

  • Growth parameters. Your doctor may check for signs of growth inhibitors such as hypothyroidism or growth hormone deficiency

  • Medical testing. To identify underlying medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis or liver disease, tests may include blood work, urinalysis and bone density

In short, your child’s pediatric growth chart should be seen as a tracking and information tool, not a ranking or grade. And rest assured, no matter where they land, they’ll pass the test.


Are You Interested in Learning More?

Sign up for our e-newsletter for more tips and best practices from pediatricians. 

Sign Up Here

Related Articles