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Growing Pains: What Baby Growth Charts Really Mean

Growing Pains: What Baby Growth Charts Really Mean
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Don't Fall Off of the Curve

Because of those limitations, the National Center for Health Statistics is revising the growth charts based on a newer, larger survey of children of varying backgrounds. Release of the new charts reportedly hit bureaucratic snags that the NCHS won't comment on publicly. The agency says, however, that the new charts could be in pediatricians' offices by the end of 2000.

Still, the revisions are a technical change that shouldn't impact day-to-day pediatric practices or parental views of baby's progress. "The most important thing," says Jo Ann Hattner, a private nutrition consultant in Palo Alto, Calif., "is looking at your child as an individual."

This is how the growth rankings work: If a child is at the 25th percentile for her age and gender, that means that out of a group of 100 girls her age, she's bigger than 24 of them and smaller than 75 of them. 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.

It's when your little one begins what health professionals call "falling off" of the curve that they take note. "If a child's been nicely growing on the 30th percentile and you see a sudden upsurge in weight, but the height is flattening out, those are red flags that should be checked out," explains Connie Evers, a Portland, Ore., child nutrition consultant.

When Baby Fat Isn't Cute

By watching the numbers, doctors may begin to suspect a chronic and metabolic illness, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism or growth hormone deficiency. Another possibility is a condition called "failure to thrive" in babies whose weight plummets out of proportion to their height.

Pediatricians are also on the look out for toddler obesity as the national battle with the bulge filters down to its youngest citizens. If your child shows a big discrepancy between your weight and height percentiles, advises Hattner, you may want to consult a registered dietician. A child under 3 years isn't likely to be put on a restrictive diet because her brain is still developing. But a dietician might suggest alterations that would help the chubby child become more height-weight proportional.

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