Look at any school picture of your child, and you will see kids of the same age in all shapes and sizes. Some kids look tiny next to their peers, while others literally tower above their classmates. As easy as it is to make these comparisons and draw conclusions about what you see, the reality is that kids grow at their own pace. Big, small, tall, short, there is a wide range of shapes and sizes among children. Genetics, gender, nutrition, physical activity, health issues, environment, hormones, and other lifestyle factors such as nutrition and physical activity, all influence a child’s height and weight, and many of these factors vary extensively depending on the family.
How Do Pediatric Endocrinologists Help Children with Growth Development?
Endocrinology is the science that studies glands and the effects of the hormones that they produce. Hormones are chemicals released into the bloodstream that regulate many bodily functions. Some of these hormones are responsible for how a child grows and matures. As growing individuals, children have a unique hormonal make up that greatly differs from adults.
Parents worry about their children and how they are developing both physically and mentally. Parents often wondering if their child’s growth is appropriate and normal. They may ask: Is my child too short? How much growth is left? How much does growth hormone help, and does my child qualify for this treatment? So, how can a parent learn whether a child’s height and weight measurements are “normal,” whether he or she is developing appropriately, and whether any health problems are affecting their growth? Taking your child to a pediatric endocrinologist can help answer these questions.
How do Charts Measure a Child’s Growth?
Growth charts are a standard part of any checkup, and they show health care providers how kids are growing compared with other kids of the same age and gender. They also allow doctors and nurses to see the pattern of a child’s height and weight gain over time. Girls and boys are measured on different growth charts because they grow in different patterns and at different rates.
Percentiles are the measurements used on growth charts, which show where a child is compared with others. On the growth charts, the percentiles are shown as lines drawn in curved patterns. When doctors plot a child’s weight and height on the chart, they see which percentile lines those measurements land on. The higher the percentile number, the bigger a child is compared with other kids of the same age and gender, whether it’s for height or weight; the lower the percentile number, the smaller the child is. For example, if a 4-year-old boy’s weight is in the 10th percentile, that means that 10 percent of boys his age weigh less than he does, and 90 percent of 4-year-old boys weigh more.
The doctor will interpret the growth charts in the context of your child’s overall well-being, environment, and genetic background. For example, is the child meeting other developmental milestones? Are there other signs that a child is not healthy? How tall or heavy are the child’s parents and siblings? Was the child born prematurely? Has the child started puberty earlier or later than average? These are all factors that the doctor will use to help you understand the numbers on your child’s growth chart, and what they exactly mean.
What Could Signal a Problem with Your Child’s Growth?
Hormone problems affecting growth can have significant effects on a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Pediatric endocrinologists are sensitive to these issues. Let’s say your child was growing along the same pattern until he or she was two-years-old, then suddenly started growing at a much slower rate than other children. This might be an indicator of a health problem, It, is important to note, that kids may show changes in growth percentiles at certain points in development, and this can be normal. This is particularly common during infancy and puberty. Certain growth chart patterns can signal a health problem, such as:
- When a child’s height and weight percentiles are markedly different: Let’s say a boy or girl’s height is in the 40th percentile and his weight is in the 85th percentile. So, this means, that he or she is taller than 40 percent of kids their age, but weighs more than 85 percent of kids their age. That might be a problem. On the other hand, if they are in the 85th percentile for height and weight and follows that pattern consistently over time, that usually means that they are a normal child who’s just larger than average.
What’s the Ideal Percentile for My Child?
There is no one ideal number. Healthy children come in all shapes and sizes, and a baby who is in the 5th percentile can be just as healthy as a baby who is in the 95th percentile. Ideally, each child will follow along the same growth pattern over time, growing in height and gaining weight at the same rate, with the height and weight in proportion to one another.
If you have a concern regarding your child’s growth, start by asking your pediatrician or family doctor if there is a reason for concern. If your child has problems with growth or pubertal development, call Endocrine Kids at (248) 347-3344 or use our online appointment request form.