In my previous job working with families with children under the age of three, parents talked a lot about growth charts. "My child is in the X percentile for height and the X percentile for weight. What does this mean? Should I be concerned?" Of course, the first thing that we did was direct the family back to their doctor with their specific questions, but here is some general education about this standard part of a child's checkup.
Growth charts have been used in the U.S. since 1977, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last updated them in 2000. They show health care providers how kids are growing compared to other children of the same age and gender, as well as if a child is growing proportionately.
There is a wide range of healthy shapes and sizes among children. Factors such as genetics, gender, nutrition, physical activity, health problems, and environment all influence a child's height and weight. A health care provider will take these into account when assessing a child's health.
What exactly do those percentiles mean? The higher the percentile number, the bigger a child is compared with other kids of the same age and gender; the lower the percentile number, the smaller the child is. For example, if a 3 year old boy's weight is in the 30th percentile for height and weight, then 30% of other kids are shorter and weigh less than he does, and 70% of children are taller and weigh more.
There is no one perfect number – a child who is in the 5th percentile can be just as healthy as a child who is in the 95th percentile. What is more significant is if a child follows along the same growth pattern over time, growing in height and gaining weight at the same rate – this is the ideal.
Of course, if you have any questions about your child's development, or growth charts, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you to decipher your child's scores and address your concerns.
Sources: Illinois Early Learning Project: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/growth-charts.html#
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cdc.gov