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Growth Charts Stump Parents

Many Parents Don't Understand Pediatric Growth Charts
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 28, 2009 -- If you’ve ever been stumped by a growth chart, a new study shows you’re not alone.

Pediatric growth charts are designed to serve as a visual aid and help doctors educate parents about their child’s growth. But a new survey shows that few parents actually understand how to use them.

Although most parents say they are familiar with and understand pediatric growth charts, researchers found that up to three-fourths of them incorrectly interpret the information in the charts.

The study showed that only 64% could correctly pinpoint a child’s weight when shown on a pediatric growth chart, and up to 77% misinterpreted charts containing height and weight measurements in tandem.

“This survey demonstrates that the current trend of clinicians sharing growth chart data with patients, although well-intentioned, does not seem to be effective,” write researcher Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, of the Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and colleagues in Pediatrics.

Growth Chart Confusion

Several health organizations, including the World Health Organization and the CDC, encourage parents and physicians to use growth charts to track their child’s growth patterns.

To determine how well parents actually understand the growth charts, researchers conducted an online survey of 1,000 U.S. parents about their knowledge of pediatric growth charts.

When asked to identify a child’s weight by looking at plotted points on a growth chart, the survey showed that only 64% of parents could correctly do so, and only 68% could identify the percentile of the plotted point.

In addition, nearly all the parents surveyed (96%) had heard of the term “percentile,” but only 56% correctly understood the definition of the word.

Finally, when looking at combined height/weight measurement growth charts, 77% incorrectly interpreted the information.

Rather then teaching parents the complicated mathematical concepts behind the current growth charts, researchers say health educators should invite parents to help them redesign the charts or come up with other techniques to help parents understand their child’s growth.

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