Nutrition and Growth Measurement Periprocedural Care

Updated: Aug 19, 2021
  • Author: Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, MD, FAAP; Chief Editor: Robert P Hoffman, MD  more...
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Periprocedural Care


The importance of growth charts

Accurate measurements of growth, and plotting these measurements on the appropriate growth chart for a child's age and gender is an essential part of the pediatric physical examination. Growth is a fluid rather than a static measurement. Growth curves and charts allow pediatric providers to follow the growth of a child over time and assist them in picking up on deviations from a child's normal growth pattern that may point to an issue that requires closer monitoring or further investigation.

Two sets of growth charts are currently recommended for use by pediatric providers in the clinical outpatient setting. As of September 2010, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using the growth charts developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children under the age of 2 and the charts developed by the CDC/ National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) for children 2-20 years.

The WHO growth charts were released in 2006 and were based on the information obtained through the Multicenter Growth Reference Study (MGRS). This study described the growth of children raised under optimal conditions who were primarily breast fed. Data from 6 study sites (USA, Brazil, Norway, Ghana, India, and Oman), representing 5 continents were used to create these growth charts. These growth standards can be applied to all children regardless of ethnic background, socioeconomic status, and type of feeding.

The use of the WHO charts in the United States is less likely to lead to the categorization of a breastfed baby as being underweight. These growth charts define the normal range from -2SD to +2SD, which is approximately the 2nd and 98th percentiles, respectively. The WHO growth charts include the following:

  1. Girls birth to 24 months length-for-age percentiles

  2. Boys birth to 24 months length-for-age percentiles

  3. Girls birth to 24 months weight-for-age percentiles

  4. Boys birth to 24 months weight-for-age percentiles

  5. Girls birth to 24 months weight-for-length percentiles

  6. Boys birth to 24 months weight-for-length percentiles

  7. Girls birth to 24 months head circumference-for-age percentiles

  8. Boys birth to 24 months head circumference-for-age percentiles [3, 4]

The CDC/NCHS growth charts were updated in 2000 with an initial normal range of 5th to 95th percentiles; it was later modified to include 3 to 97th percentiles; however, the data points did not change. These charts were developed based on data from several national surveys conducted by the NCHS in the US from 1963-1994. The CDC/NCHS growth charts include the following:

  1. Girls 2-20 years stature-for-age percentiles

  2. Boys 2-20 years stature-for-age percentiles

  3. Girls 2-20 years weight-for-age percentiles

  4. Boys 2-20 years weight-for-age percentiles

  5. Girls 2-20 years BMI-for-age percentiles

  6. Boys 2-20 years BMI-for-age percentiles [4]


Monitoring & Follow-up

Normal and abnormal growth patterns

By monitoring a child's longitudinal growth pattern with the use of age-appropriate and gender -appropriate growth charts, pediatric providers can comment on normal growth patterns for individual children and note deviations from these patterns that may signal an underlying medical condition.

Normal patterns for the healthy neonate include a loss of up to 10% of their birth weight in the first week of life and generally regaining their birth weight by the end of their second week of life. After 2 weeks of age until 3 months, infants will gain approximately 20-30 grams per day. It is helpful to calculate this weight gain at office visits during this time.

As providers follow a child's growth over time, they notice if children track along the same percentile and often note this as the child "following their curve". There is a notable variation in this from ages 6-18 months. For healthy, term infants, their size at birth is a reflection of the intrauterine environment during gestation. By age 2, size is more strongly influenced by genetic factors, namely mean parental height. Therefore between ages 6 and 18 months, infants may change percentiles up or down to meet their genetic pre-disposition. This percentile generally corresponds to the percentile of the child's mean parental height with an appropriate weight to match. One can calculate mid-parental height in inches with the following formulas:

Boys: [(maternal height + 5) + paternal height] / 2

Girls : [maternal height + (paternal height - 5)] / 2

Abnormal growth patterns over time can point toward significant health issues. Some of these issues can be directly impacted by the nutritional status of the child. [1]

How measurements of growth can help assess nutritional status

Analysis of growth patterns in children can be helpful in detecting abnormal growth and may lead to an assessment of the child's nutritional status. The following chart is useful as a guide to growth and calorie requirements for children from birth to age 6 years. [1]

Table 1. Calorie Requirements for Children From Birth to Six Years (Open Table in a new window)


Approximate Daily Weight

Gain (g)

Approximate Monthly Weight Gain

Growth in Length (cm/mo)

Growth in Head Circumference (cm/mo)

Recommended Daily Allowance (Kcal/kg/day)

0-3 mos


2 lb




3-6 mos


1.25 lb




6-9 mos


1 lb




9-12 mos


13 oz




1-3 yrs


8 oz




4-6 yrs


6 oz

3 cm/yr

1 cm/yr


Adapted from National Research Council, Food and Nutrition Board: Recommended Daily Allowances, Washington, DC, 1989, National Academy of Sciences; Frank D, Silva M,Needlman R:Failure to thrive: myth and method, Contemp Pediatr 10:114, 1993 [1]

Nutritional processes that can be diagnosed by abnormal growth patterns include failure to thrive and obesity.

Failure to thrive is often a diagnosis for children under age 3 years. It is suspected when a child's weight is below the 5th percentile, crosses 2 or more percentiles, or the weight-for-height is below the 5th percentile. Transient episodes of weight loss or poor weight gain secondary to brief illness generally correct themselves quickly and do not affect overall growth patterns. Alternatively, chronic malnutrition may cause stunted growth as well as poor weight gain, and the weight-for- height curves may not appear abnormal or concerning. [1, 5]

Another useful measurement when growth falls below the 5th percentile or above the 95th percentile is to calculate the percentage of ideal body weight. For example, a 9-month-old girl has a length of 70 cm (50th percentile for age). Her weight is 6.2 kg (less than 5th percentile for age). Her ideal weight (50th percentile for age) is 8.2 kg. Therefore her actual weight is 75% of the standard weight for her age.

The following numbers are useful table when calculating percent ideal body weight:

  • >120% - Obese

  • 110-120% - Overweight

  • 90-110% - Normal variation

  • 80-90% - Mild wasting

  • 70-80% - Moderate wasting

  • < 70% - Severe wasting

Numbers adapted from Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics 19th edition. [1]

In nutritional insufficiency, weight decreases before length is affected, resulting in a low weight-for-height. Poor linear growth is more likely to be due to congenital, constitutional, familial, or endocrine causes rather than due to nutritional deficits.

Congenital causes for short stature include chromosomal abnormalities, TORCH infection, extreme prematurity, or exposure to teratogens. For children with constitutional growth delay, weight and length decrease at the end of infancy, are low through childhood, and then accelerate at the end of adolescence to produce expected adult height. In familial short stature, children and parents are small and growth is parallel to normal curves. Children with endocrinopathies such as hypothyroidism, length/height tends to decline first, with an elevated weight-for-height ratio.

Obesity is another extreme of growth that has significant morbidity and mortality for children today. Obesity can be diagnosed with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile or a weight-for-height measurement of more than 120% of the mean for that age and gender. A BMI between the 85-95th percentiles falls in the overweight category.

Any child at the extremes of growth (failure to thrive and obesity) requires a thorough history and physical examination to evaluate for possible causes of the condition, as well as an in-depth evaluation to look for comorbidities associated with these conditions. [1, 5]