What You Need to Know About Your Child's Height Percentile

A child’s growth pattern is based on many factors including environment, nutrition, genetics, medical history and even birth weight. Because these are unique to each individual, what could seem like either a delayed or accelerated speed of growth might actually be normal based on how that child’s body is wired to function.

However, sometimes an unusual pattern of growth can indicate health abnormalities, which is why it’s crucial to monitor your child’s height percentile, both at the doctor and at home. Learn how to get a reading, what it means and how you can detect issues early on.

More: What Are the Causes of Short Stature?

How do you calculate your child’s height percentile?

One tool that can assist with tracking your child’s development is a height percentile chart. You’ll want to use charts created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to measure a child’s stature in relation to those within their age bracket.

To track the progress of your child’s heights at home, use the chart created four child’s age and gender: males and females. Each gender’s charts are broken down into age from 2 to 20 years, so be sure to find the most accurate one.

The percentiles you’ll find on the charts are based on a scale of 100. If your child’s height falls in the 50th percentile, this means he or she is taller than 50 percent of children and shorter than another 50 percent children of the same age. If your child is in the 90th percentile, he or she is taller than 90 percent of children and shorter than 10 percent of children.

If you want to calculate your child’s height percentile at home, but are uncertain about using a chart, check out Healthy Height’s growth percentile calculator, which makes it easy to determine where your child’s growth falls in relation to their peers.

When you get your reading, determine whether your child is within an average growth range or not. Rady Children’s Specialists suggest that average height for any age or gender is at the 50th percentile. However, it’s important to consider your child’s height percentile in relation to you, the parents.

Rady explains, “Which percentile a child should be growing at is primarily determined by their parent’s height. The first question to answer when evaluating a child for delayed growth is are they growing on a percentile curve that is appropriate or expected for their family.”

Rady suggests two calculations you can use to determine your child’s expected height, based on the height of both parents to get a better idea of whether your child is on track based on his or her particular circumstances. You can find both calculations (for mom and dad), in their short stature resource.

The percentile your child falls into is a helpful benchmarker, telling you if he or she is on a healthy trajectory. For all intents and purposes, this is a mostly accurate baseline, but you should always speak with your pediatrician if there are any concerns. Your pediatrician will be tracking height in your child’s annual visits as well to ensure his or her growth trajectory is where it should be.

 

Why might my child get a low percentile reading?

While being on the shorter end of the spectrum is not an automatic cause for alarm, if your child’s height percentile is uncommonly low for their age bracket, there are some potential health issues which could be the root of this growth delay. It’s important to work with your pediatrician if their growth trajectory does not reflect an upward, healthy curve.

Data from HealthyChilden.org, a resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), suggests that a low percentile becomes worrisome if it stagnates or regresses over time. In these instances, a child who is below the third percentile might have symptoms of a more serious or chronic illness that needs to be addressed.

What does a low height percentile mean for my child’s health?

As your child grows, it’s important to note each reading; this will help you and your pediatrician determine if he or she is on a curve that denotes a healthy pattern of growth. If your child’s height remains in or near the same percentile for an extended length of time, a medical issue could be the reason for this stagnation. Be sure to speak with your pediatrician about any potential concerns, suggests the Acta Paediatrica Journal:

“Early detection of abnormal growth and identification of the underlying cause is critical for appropriate treatment. Normal growth is the result of a complex interaction between genetic, hormonal, environmental and nutritional factors. Correcting the pathologic conditions associated with short stature will usually result in a normalization of growth.”  

As you track your child’s growth, learn more about the causes of short stature and other issues surrounding height and growth with the resources below:

  

Learning Your Child’s Height Percentile

Because all children mature physically at different speeds and rates of growth, it can be hard to understand if your child’s development is on-track. Height percentile is one way to get insight on this, and while the charts don’t provide all the answers you need to monitor your child’s health, they are helpful in benchmarking stature, an important sign of healthy growth. If your child goes to annual exams with the pediatrician, and you track height at home too, you’re likely to catch any potential issues early, allowing you find a solution so your child can continue to grow tall.     

       

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