Getting your height and weight checked at each doctor’s visit is so routine, you might not even think about it. But when your child goes to the pediatrician, not only do they take a height and weight, but they also plot those data points along a complicated-looking chart. What do these height and weight charts for kids mean?
Why Pediatricians Track Height and Weight
Kids and teens grow like crazy, but each child grows at his or her own rate. Height and weight charts for kids are meant to show a typical growth path at different percentiles based on age. Ideally, children stay within a certain percentile range as they grow. Pediatricians use height and weight charts for kids to plot your child’s information at each well-check visit, watching for sudden stops (plateaus), large spikes, or steep dips. They also look at the comparison of height vs. weight, to make sure your child is growing proportionally.
Percentiles and Percentages: What’s the Difference?
We love the number 100%! It’s a perfect score on a test, a sign you’ve given something your all… But 100 percent is very different than being in the 100th percentile.
Height and weight charts for kids show percentiles of growth based on the general population of all children. A child in the 10th percentile means that 10% of children (other boys or girls, since growth charts are different for each gender) are smaller than him or her. In other words, that child would be on the smaller end of the height and weight spectrum. On the other hand, a child in the 95th percentile would likely be larger than other kids his or her age.
Why Track Height and Weight?
Haven’t you ever wondered how tall your kids are going to be when they get older? Growth charts can help clue us into this information. If the child’s birth parents are very tall, for example, chances are the child will be in one of the upper percentiles.
Plotting height and weight over time can also uncover possible health concerns. If your child suddenly drops percentiles in height, or jumps to a higher a percentile in weight, the doctor might ask about the child’s diet or if they’ve gotten sick recently.
How Nutrition Contributes to Healthy Growth
Eating healthy foods and getting enough exercise are important for kids’ growth and development. Nutritious foods give children the protein, vitamins and minerals they need for their bones to grow and muscles to develop. An unbalanced diet or not getting enough physical activity might show up as an unhealthy weight-for-height number. That’s measured as the body-mass index, or BMI:
- A child may be Underweight if their BMI for age and weight is less than the 5th percentile
- Healthy Weight is a percentile between the 5th and 85th range
- A child may be considered Overweight is if the BMI for age and weight is between the 85th and 95th percentiles or Obese at or above the 95th percentile
It’s important to know that BMI is just a calculated number based on data, but it does not diagnose things like overweight and obesity. Sometimes kids with a lot of muscle mass show high BMI-for-age, but they would not be considered overweight (that’s only if a person has excess fat on their body). Calculating BMI is just one step, but pediatricians will look at other factors before they will make a diagnosis of underweight, overweight or obesity.
Keeping Growth on a Steady Path
We can’t change our genetics – a child of short parents likely won’t be an NBA all-star – but we can make sure our children’s growth is steady and that they hit their developmental milestones. Ways you can support them are:
- Feed them healthy foods. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy foods and drinks, eat meals together as a family, and model healthy eating yourself. Make sure they start the day with a healthy breakfast!
- Make sure they’re physically active. Sports are great, but so are everyday activities that get kids up and moving. Fit in bouts of physical activity such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or riding bikes to school or friends’ houses, and even finding ways to be active at home.
- Prioritize sleep. So much growth happens as we sleep, both physically and mentally. Getting enough sleep helps the body recover from the previous day and prepare for the day ahead.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the height, weight or growth of your kids.
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