Although each child is different, it can be reassuring for parents to know that their children are growing and developing at a normal rate. Paediatricians often track a child’s growth and compare their height and weight on well established growth and body mass index (BMI) charts. By utilizing the data that these resources offer, both the doctor and parents can not only keep an eye on the child’s growth pattern, but can formulate a plan of action if the growth charts suggest that a problem exists.
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Designed to measure body mass, BMI charts can help to determine whether a child’s weight is appropriate for their height. To get a quick picture of a child’s weight status, the paediatrician enters the height, weight, age, and gender. The resulting number is then compared to other children of the same age to see if the child’s weight falls within the normal boundaries.
Although some variances are perfectly normal, doctors look for a trend of growth in the child’s medical history to see that the growth pattern is somewhat consistent. While most children experience periods of rapid growth (as any parent who has just watched their kids outgrow all of their brand new clothes will tell you!), a pattern of either ongoing excessive weight gain or delayed growth may signal a problem.
Most often, variances from the norm are due to dietary and exercise habits or normal genetic tendencies, but some growth problems are a result of illness of infection, so it is important to ascertain the reasons for a trend of gaining or losing percentile rankings.
“Is she small for her age?” or “He seems to be getting a little pudgy” are concerns that worried parents express to their children’s paediatricians all the time. But how do you know if your child is growing at a normal, healthy rate? Growth charts, developed by tracking the heights and weights of thousands of children at varying ages, are very helpful tools in determining whether or not your child is growing at a typical rate.
Paediatricians will routinely chart the height and weight of children at their check ups and then compare the individual statistics to those on the charts. While no two children can be expected to grow at the same rate, the charts can help to gauge the overall growth pattern of children.
Understanding the Results
Growth charts are very simple comparisons. If your child’s paediatrician tells you that your daughter is in the 45th percentile for weight, that means that she is heavier than 45% of children her age and lighter than 55%. There are separate charts to track height and weight, and as children grow, the statistics for boys and girls will vary considerably.
Since a child’s growth is usually not completely consistent, doctors look for trends in development, rather than making a judgment based on the results of one check up. If a pattern begins to emerge suggesting a possible problem, the paediatrician will then seek an underlying cause. For example, if a toddler continues to rank lower on the growth charts over the course of a year, the doctor will need to ascertain the reason.
Often, solutions to growth pattern variances are easily remedied. A child who appears to be overweight may be advised to boost their physical activity a bit, since overweight children have a higher risk of becoming overweight adults than their lighter peers. With early intervention, a small problem need not become a lifelong struggle.
Some children have trouble gaining weight, which can also signal a problem. Failure to thrive can stem from a variety of causes, so doctors and parents can work together to determine the best way to get the child back on track.
Words of Advice
While growth and BMI charts can help parents to gauge their child’s progress, there are many factors to consider. Any concerns that you have about your child’s growth and development should be addressed by your child’s paediatrician. A complete check up can not only help to determine your child’s overall health, but gives you the opportunity to get individual, professional advice.