Use Growth Charts to Assess Your Child's Weight

Male nurse checking weight of smiling girl on scale in clinic examination room
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Growth Charts

The next time you take your child to see his or her pediatrician, ask to see a growth chart. Physicians use growth charts to monitor and plot children's physical development and weight changes. The chart will show the trends behind any weight changes and you will be able to get a clear view of your child's weight as it will have been recorded on the chart at every check-up.

The growth chart shows curves representing percentiles that compare your child's weight with other American children of the same age.

Nationally accepted growth charts are based on measurement data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. Physicians use these percentiles to assess a child's risk of being overweight. Typically, a child who ranks in the 85th percentile or higher is either considered overweight or at significant risk of becoming overweight.

For example, if your child charts in the 85th percentile, only 15% of American children of the same age weigh more; that means your child weighs more than 85% of American children of the same age.

If you have any doubts about what your child's percentile ranking means, don't hesitate to ask the doctor or nurse to explain your child's standing to you. They can let you know whether or not the findings are cause for concern. Keep in mind that pediatricians use the chart to track trends in your child's weight and growth patterns over time. Seeing a higher number on this visit doesn't automatically mean there's a reason to panic.

Children's weight can fluctuate at different times, just like adults. Again, if in doubt, ask if you should be worried before you assume there is a problem.

You can chart your child's weight yourself at home. Before you do so, you will need to weigh your child on a scale that you know is accurate. Then, print out a growth chart.

It is important to note that there are several different growth charts -- two for boys and two for girls; one is for children aged 0 to 36 months and the other is for ages 3 to 20. It is imperative that you use the correct chart for your child's age and sex.

Note, however, that this is not a substitute for the measurements taken at your doctor's office. The doctor's charts will include head circumference and other input that may be important as you consider your child's growth and development patterns.

Once you have printed the correct page, locate your child's age across the bottom of the chart. Draw a vertical line at the appropriate age. Next, locate your child's weight in pounds on the side of the chart (kilograms are also usually listed, so don't get confused). Draw a horizontal line across at the appropriate weight until it meets the first line. Draw in a dark dot where the two lines you have drawn intersect. Locate the curved line nearest the dot to find the percentile that your child's weight falls into.

More Resources


A.D.A.M. Health Illustrated Encyclopedia. Height and Weight Chart 23 Oct 2007. 1 April 2008.

Centers for Disease Control. Use and Interpretation of the CDC Growth Charts. 5 April 2008.

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