How do I know if my child is too thin, too fat, or just right?

Many parents want to know if their young son or daughter is the right size. Pediatricians also want to ensure children grow properly, so height and weight (and head size on young children) are checked at every well baby or well child visit. We compare a child to growth charts compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, which show the expected heights and weights for American children from birth to young adulthood.

There are growth charts for both boys and girls. There are even special growth charts for children with special health needs (such as Down syndrome) whom we expect to grow at a different speed.

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A child's height or weight can be about average (25th -75th percentile), above average (greater than the 75th percentile), or below average (less than the 25th percentile.) Above average or below average does not necessarily mean that your child is too big or small. For example, if a child's parents are 5'4" and 5'2," he or she will probably be petite. Besides, no one's child is the "average child" !

Generally, we expect a child's height and weight to be proportionate. A child who is somewhere in the middle for height should have a weight that is about average. Tall children, on the average, weigh more. Short children should weigh less. Disproportionate growth, when a child is very heavy or very slim for his height, can be a cause for concern. Your doctor will let you know if he or she is worried about this.

In recent years, more and more school aged children have become overweight, even obese. We also have body mass index (BMI) charts that show what children should weigh for their heights. Again, boys and girls have separate charts.

Calculate body mass index (BMI) here.

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You might be interested to know that, although pediatricians have been using growth charts for over thirty years, the growth charts in use were revised about ten years ago to include children from more diverse cultural and racial backgrounds.