About Growth Charts
Look at any class picture, and you’ll see kids of the same age in all shapes and sizes. Some kids look tiny next to their peers, while others literally stand head and shoulders above their classmates.
As easy as it is to make these comparisons and to draw conclusions about what you see, the reality is that kids grow at their own pace. Big, small, tall, short — there is a wide range of healthy shapes and sizes among children.
Genetics, gender, nutrition, physical activity, health problems, environment, hormones, and lifestyle factors like nutrition and physical activity all influence a child’s height and weight. And many of these factors can vary widely from family to family.
So how does a doctor figure out whether a child’s height and weight measurements are “normal”? Whether he or she is developing on track? Whether any health problems are affecting growth?
A doctor uses growth charts to help answer those questions. Here are some facts about growth charts and what they say about a child’s health.
Why Do Doctors Use Growth Charts?
Growth charts are a standard part of any checkup, and they show health care providers how kids are growing compared with other kids of the same age and gender. They also allow doctors and nurses to see the pattern of kids’ height and weight gain over time, and whether they’re developing proportionately.
Let’s say a child was growing along the same pattern until he was 2 years old, then suddenly started growing at a much slower rate than other kids. That might indicate a health problem. Doctors could see that by looking at a growth chart.
If a Growth Chart Shows a Different Pattern, Is There a Problem?
Not necessarily. The doctor will interpret the growth charts in the context of the child’s overall well-being, environment, and genetic background. Is the child meeting other developmental milestones? Are there other signs that a child is not healthy? How tall or heavy are the child’s parents and siblings? These are all factors that the doctor will use to help understand the numbers on the growth chart.
Are All Kids Measured on One Growth Chart?
No. Girls and boys are measured on different growth charts because they grow in different patterns and at different rates.
And one set of charts is used for babies, from birth to 36 months. Another set of charts is used for kids ages 2 to 20 years old.
What Measurements Are Put on Growth Charts?
Up until the time babies are 36 months old, doctors measure weight, length, and head circumference.
With older kids, doctors measure weight, height, and body mass index (BMI). It’s important to look at and compare weight and height measurements to get a full picture of a child’s growth.