Child Growth & Development

Growth Charts for Children

Growth charts help determine normals standards of childhood growth. They are a standard part of any pediatric checkup, and they show health care providers how kids are growing compared with other kids of the same age and gender.

Girls and boys are measured on different growth charts because they grow in different patterns and at different rates. Also, one set of charts is used for babies (birth to 36 months old) and another set of charts is used for older children (2 to 20 years old).

Commonly used standard growth charts include:

  • length for age
  • weight for age
  • head circumference for age
  • weight-for-length

Also, special growth charts are used for children with certain conditions, such as Down syndrome.

Growth charts allow doctors and nurses to see the pattern of growth and weight gain over time, and whether they're developing proportionately. The doctor will interpret the growth charts in the context of the child's overall well-being and other development milestones.

For instance, a medical problem might be suspected if a boy was growing along the same pattern until he was 2 years old, then suddenly started growing at a much slower rate. Changes on the growth chart might inform the doctor to investigate other possible health problems.

There are many factors that affect a child's growth. Important factors include:

  • Genetics (children of tall parents tend to be tall)
  • Gender
  • Nutrition (breastfed children tend to have different growth patterns that those who are bottlefed)
  • Physical activity
  • Environment
  • Hormones (the onset of puberty leads to changes in growth)
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Health problems (Children born prematurely may show growth delay for several months)

Growth charts are not intended to be used as a sole diagnostic instrument. Instead, growth charts are tools that contribute to forming an overall clinical impression for the child being measured.

What is a percentile?

Percentiles is a term that describes an individuals' ranking relative to others in the same group. For example someone in the "25th percentile" for weight has a body weight that is the same or greater than 25% of others who are the same age, and weighs less than 75% of others who are the same sage.

Being "average" or in the middle is also called the "50th percentile".

Reference: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention