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Child Development – Study Finds Parents Clueless when it comes to Growth Charts

Posted Nov 22 2009 10:00pm

By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

Throughout your new baby’s first year of life, you will have several visits to the pediatrician to make sure your baby is growing and developing properly.  One of the methods used to document child development is the standard growth chart.  Just about every parent has seen one, but how many truly understand how what those charts explain? As CNN reported, many parents are clueless when it comes to growth charts.

  Growth charts were first compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) in 1977 and display a series of curves based on “ideal” growth rates of children based on national statistics.  Doctors and health care providers reference these charts based on age and gender of a child in terms of percentages.  For example, if your child is in growthcharts the 90 th percentile that means that means that out of 100 kids the same age and gender; 10 are heavier and 90 weigh less.

Since children’s growth rates vary from child to child, percentages can bounce around quite a bit especially in the first few years of life.  These percentiles are only approximations but health care professionals keep an eye out for drastic variations.  Some kids outside of “normal” ranges are perfectly healthy but significant variations dictate a second glance or perhaps exploration to rule out a potential underlying condition.

In an internet survey of 1,000 parent conducted by Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph; 79% reported they had seen a growth chart and felt they understood the information provided on these charts. Yet only 64% of respondents could correctly determine a child’s weight based on the chart’s plot points while another 77%  incorrectly interpreted data on the height/weight chart.  In addition, about 51% of parents did not understand what being in the 90 th percentile for weight and 10 th percentile for height actually meant.

A child plotted in afore mentioned percentiles would indicate that the child is overweight.  While some babies do outgrow their “baby fat”, others do not which could lead to health implications later in life such as obesity.  The survey illustrated the need for doctors to not just show parents their child’s growth chart, but to also explain what those numbers mean.  Growth charts, although not an absolute indicator, serve as a helpful tool for healthy child development, but only with full parental comprehension.

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