An average growth rate is one that moves along with the standard curves on the growth charts used at your child’s pediatrician’s office. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), tracking your child’s growth is a hallmark of their well-child doctor visits. These check-ups can explain a lot about a child’s health, nutrition, and development.
But if you’ve felt confused by growth charts, percentiles, and other data provided at these visits, you’re not alone! Many parents and caregivers often need further clarification on what growth rates really mean and what they say about their child’s health.
Why is Tracking Growth Important?
Measuring your child’s growth can help you know if they’re developing at an average rate, suffering from a medical condition, or if changes need to be made in their daily diet or activity. For example, a child whose height is increasing faster than their weight could be suffering from a lack of nutrition or other health issues. Children at risk of obesity (when weight is increasing faster than height) can also be identified by tracking growth. These routine measurements can help pediatricians explain genetic influences, spot growth disorders, and provide parents with more precise recommendations on nutrition.
What Is Measured?
Many of us tend to use “growth” and “height” interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things. Height measures how tall children are, while growth is an overall look at their:
- Head circumference (up to age 3)
- Body mass index (BMI – the percentage of body fat)
When your child’s pediatrician does a well-child check, they will be measuring their growth with all of these factors. Click here to download average height and weight charts according to age from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Always remember to reach out to your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s growth.
Why You Shouldn’t Focus on Percentiles
Your pediatrician has likely mentioned your child’s height or weight percentile. These percentiles explain where your child is in comparison to their peers. For instance, a 5-year-old girl in the 10th percentile in height means that 10% of girls her age are shorter than her, while 90% of girls her age are taller than her.
Parents often become concerned when they hear significantly high or low percentiles. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is unhealthy when they fall into these categories. The AAP recommends keeping track of rates and trends rather than percentiles. Doctors want to look at how a child’s body is changing, not at a single measurement at one moment in time.
Remember that children don’t always grow at a consistent pace, and several things can influence height and weight. Genetics, nutrition, exercise, growth spurts, and their environment can all impact their development. The point is to keep an eye on patterns or trends that can shed light on their overall health.
While this shouldn’t be a substitute for medical advice, we do hope this information helps you better understand what average growth rates mean, how they’re measured, and why they’re so important.