Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Growth chart

Alternative Names

Height and weight chart

Information

Growth charts are used to compare your child's height, weight, and head size against children of the same age.

Growth charts can help both you and your health care provider follow your child as he or she grows. These charts may provide an early warning that your child has a medical problem.

Growth charts were developed from information gained by measuring and weighing thousands of children. From these numbers, the national average weight and height for each age and gender were established.

The lines or curves on growth charts tell how many other children in the United States weigh a certain amount at a certain age. For example, the weight on the 50th percentile line means that half of the children in the United States  weigh more than that number and half of the children weigh less.

WHAT GROWTH CHARTS MEASURE

Your child's health care provider will measure the following during each well-child visit:

  • Weight (measured in ounces and pounds, or grams and kilograms)
  • Height (measured while lying down in children under age 3, and while standing up in children over age 3)
  • Head circumference -- a measurement of the head size taken by wrapping a measuring tape around the back of the head above the eyebrows

Beginning at age 2, a child's body mass index (BMI) can be calculated. Height and weight are used to figure out the BMI. A BMI measurement can estimate a child's body fat.

Each of your child's measurements is placed on the growth chart. These measurements are then compared with the standard (normal) range for children of the same gender and age. The same chart will be used as your child grows older.

HOW TO UNDERSTAND A GROWTH CHART

Many parents worry if they learn that their child's height, weight, or head size is smaller than those of most other children the same age. They worry about whether their child will do well in school, or be able to keep up in sports.

Learning a few important facts can make it easier for parents to understand what different measurements mean:

  • Mistakes in measurement can happen, for example if the baby squirms on the scale.
  • One measurement may not represent the big picture. For example, a toddler may lose weight after a bout of diarrhea, but will likely regain the weight after the illness is gone.
  • Threre is a wide range for what is considered "normal." Just because your child is in the 15th percentile for weight (meaning 85 out of 100 children weigh more), this number rarely means your child is sick, you're not feeding your child enough, or your breast milk is not enough for your baby.
  • Your child's measurements do not predict whether he or she will be tall, short, fat, or skinny as an adult.

Some changes to your child's growth chart may worry your health care provider more than others:

  • When one of your child's measurements stays below the 10th percentile or above the 90th percentile for his or her age.
  • If the head is growing too slowly or too quickly when measured over time.
  • When your child's measurement does not stay close to one line on the graph. For example, a health care provider may worry if a 6-month-old was in the 75th percentile, but then moved to the 25th percentile at 9 months, and dropped even lower at 12 months.

Abonormal growth on the growth charts is only a sign of a possible problem. Your doctor will determine whether it is an actual medical problem, or whether your child's growth just needs to be watched carefully.

References

Keane V. Assessment of growth. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th Ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 13. 

Updated: 1/27/2013

Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com