Growth Charts: What Those Height and Weight Percentiles Mean (2024)

Growth charts are a tool for tracking a child's physical growth and development. They help pediatricians make sure kids are gaining inches, putting on pounds, and increasing in head size (an indicator of healthy brain development) at a rate that's typical for their age.

Charting a child's height, weight, and head circumference over time also allows doctors and parents to see if a child is gaining weight more quickly than they are adding inches, or vice versa—signs that they may be on track to becoming overweight or aren't eating as much as they should.

It is not the actual percentile number that is important. What your child's pediatrician is tracking is how your child's growth is changing over time. Are they following their curve, indicating healthy growth? Or is there a change in their growth pattern, which could be a sign of a problem?

Understanding Percentiles

When your child's doctor measures height, weight, and head circumference, not only will they tell you the results in terms of inches and pounds, they will also express what your child's percentiles are for each measurement. The percentile number means that your child exceeds that percentage of children their age for that measurement.

  • If your child is in the 75th percentile for height, they are taller than 75% of other kids their age.
  • If they are in the 25th percentile for weight, they only exceed 25% of children their age in weight.

However, weight charts do not reflect the obesity epidemic. About one-third of kids are now overweight, meaning that there are many more than 5% of kids above the 95th percentile for weight. The growth curves haven't been adjusted as the intended purpose of the growth charts is to plot out what is typical, healthy growth.

Growth Patterns

It is important to understand thatgrowth charts are best used to follow the rate of your child's growth over time. Plotting your child's weight and height at different ages and seeing if they follow a consistent growth curve is more important than what their percentiles are at any one time.

Even if your child is at the fifth percentile for weight (meaning that 95% of kids their age weigh more than they do), if they have always been at the fifth percentile, then they are likely growing normally. It would be concerning and it might mean there was a problem with their growth if they had previously been at the 50th or 75th percentile and had now fallen down to the fifth percentile.

Children between the ages of 6 and 18 months can normally move up or down on their percentiles, but older children should follow their growth curve fairly closely.

Charting Your Child's Growth Yourself

If you'd like to keep an eye on how your little one is growing between doctor visits, you can findgrowth charts online to help you do that.

The first step is to find the right chart. If your child is healthy and developing typically, you have a couple of choices depending on her age. For an infant or toddler (up to age 2), use thegrowth charts from the World Health Organization (WHO), whichreflect an international standard that was developed in 2006.

If your child is 2 or older, look at the growth charts developed by the National Center for Health Statistics. These were updated and revised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000.

Note that there also are growth charts for premature babies and children who are born withspecific conditions, such asDown syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, achondroplasia, Marfan syndrome, and others. The Magic Foundation offers specialized growth charts for children with Noonan syndrome, Turner syndrome, Russell-Silver syndrome, and more conditions.

How to Read Growth Charts

Say you have a 2-year-old boy who weighs 30 pounds. To find out what his percentiles are, start by using the CDCgrowth chart for boys from birth to 36 months. This chart, like all the others, has theage at the top and bottom of the grid and length and weight at the left and right of the grid. Curves on the chart indicate the percentiles for length-for-age and weight-for-age.

  • Step 1:Find the child's age at the bottom of the chart and draw a vertical line on the growth chart (from top to bottom). For this example, youwould draw a line through 24 months (2 years).
  • Step 2: Now find the child's weight on the right-hand side of the chart, 30 pounds in this example, and draw a horizontal line (from left to right).
  • Step 3: Find the spot where these two lines intersect or cross each other.
  • Step 4: Find the curve that is closest to this spot and follow it up and to the right until you find the number that corresponds to your child's percentile.

In this example, a 2-year-old boy who is 30 pounds is at the 75th percentile for his weight, meaning that in a population of children growing optimally, he weighs more than about 75% of boys his age.

Finding achild's percentile is a little harder if the curve doesn't actually pass through the spot where age and weight come together. For example, if the boy in the example weighed 31 pounds, you would use all of the same steps but also have to imagine a curve that is somewhere between the 75th and 90th percentiles, figuring that he was at about the 80th to 85th percentile.

You can use the same steps to plot your child's height and body mass index (for kids ages 2 and up).

Understanding Growth Charts for Kids

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to read a growth chart: Percentiles explained. Updated September 1, 2015.

  2. Marchand V; Canadian Paediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee. The toddler who is falling off the growth chart.Paediatr Child Health. 2012;17(8):447–454. doi:10.1093/pch/17.8.447

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.

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Growth Charts: What Those Height and Weight Percentiles Mean (2024)

FAQs

Growth Charts: What Those Height and Weight Percentiles Mean? ›

If a child's weight is at the 50th percentile line, that means that out of 100 normal children her age, 50 will be bigger than she is and 50 smaller. Similarly, if she is in the 75th percentile, that means that she is bigger than 75 children and smaller than only 25, compared with 100 children her age.

What does percentile for height and weight mean? ›

When doctors plot a child's weight and height on the chart, they see which percentile line 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.

What does 95th percentile mean on growth chart? ›

What falling on the 95th percentile of a pediatric growth chart means is that your baby is currently both taller and heavier than 95 percent of all other babies her age (of the same sex). Even though that number may sound high, that doesn't necessarily mean your baby's excessively hefty.

Should weight and height percentiles match? ›

- Height, weight and body mass index (BMI) are measurements used to track growth and nutrition. - Genetics, nutrition, environment and activity can all play a factor. - Ideally, the weight should match the same percentile as the child's height.

What does 25th percentile mean in growth chart? ›

Each line indicates a certain percent- age of the population who would be that particular height at a particular age. If a boy's height is plotted on the 25th percentile line, for example, this indicates that approximately 25 out of 100 boys his age are shorter than him.

What is a good percentile to be in for weight? ›

Anyone who falls between the 5th percentile and the 85th percentile is a healthy weight. If someone is at or above the 85th percentile line on the chart (but less than the 95th percentile) is overweight. A BMI measurement at or over the 95th percentile line on the chart puts someone in the obese range.

What percentile is good for height? ›

Any number between the 5th percentile and the 95th is considered "normal." Whether the measurements are high or low, they should follow a consistent curve on the growth chart over the first year.

What is a good percentile for growth? ›

A normal rate of growth means the child's growth points closely follow a percentile line on the chart. We usually don't worry about insufficient (or excessive) growth until a child's growth rate has crossed at least two percentile lines (e.g., from above the 90th percentile to below the 50th).

How to read growth charts? ›

Reading the lines

Age is at the top and bottom of the chart, and length and weight are along the left and right sides. The curved lines show the percentile numbers, or patterns of growth. The percentile number means that your child's growth exceeds that percentage of other children their age.

When should parents worry with regards to growth charts? ›

Some changes to your child's growth chart may worry your provider more than others: When one of your child's measurements stays below the 10th percentile or above the 90th percentile for their age. If the head is growing too slowly or too quickly when measured over time.

How accurate are growth charts? ›

In routine clinical practice, height is assessed by using normative data based on growth charts and operationalized through percentiles. However, the cross-sectional nature of existing growth curves causes low accuracy in the prediction of final height, particularly during puberty.

Is it better to have a high or low percentile? ›

Percentiles Indicate Relative Rank

Percentiles range from 1 to 99 in whole numbers. Rounding is always up, e.g., 10.1 percentile becomes 11. In contrast to usual mathematical practice, a lower number indicates a better score.

Do low percentile babies catch up? ›

If there are no other complications, most babies born with a low birth weight eventually 'catch up' to their peers. In later life, however, people who were born smaller than average may be more likely to develop health problems such as: diabetes.

When should I worry about my child's growth? ›

Most growth problems are noticed when the child appears smaller than his or her classmates, or when growth slows over several months. One main sign of a growth problem is when a child grows less than 3.5 cm (about 1.4 inches) a year after his or her 3rd birthday.

Is it bad if my baby is in the 95th percentile? ›

Her place on the curve depends on how her genes and nutritional habits compare to the other 99 kids. "A kid can be fine at the 5th percentile for two years or at the 95th percentile," says Dr. France, and both are perfectly normal.

What percentile is a small head in a baby? ›

Percentiles help healthcare providers diagnose certain conditions. To receive a microcephaly diagnosis, your baby's head circumference must be in the 3rd percentile or lower. A head circumference in the 3rd percentile means 3% of all infants have a smaller head size, and 97% have a larger head size.

What does 75th percentile mean? ›

The 75th percentile is the value where 75% of all measurements are under it, and 25% of measurements are over it. It is the percentile that Google recommends using when monitoring Web Vitals.

What does it mean if my weight is in the 75th percentile? ›

If a child's weight is at the 50th percentile line, that means that out of 100 normal children her age, 50 will be bigger than she is and 50 smaller. Similarly, if she is in the 75th percentile, that means that she is bigger than 75 children and smaller than only 25, compared with 100 children her age.

What does 99th percentile mean? ›

The 99th percentile is the highest percentile you can get. It means you are among the top scorers since you scored higher than 99% of the group who took the test. Only 1 in 100 the group scores in this range, so it places you at the very top of the pool.

What does 90th percentile mean? ›

That figure has no real meaning unless you know what percentile you fall into, and therefore what is considered to be a “good” score. For instance, if you knew that your score is in the 90th percentile, that means you scored better than 90% of people who took the test and have performed well compared to others.

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