Over the past 15 years, Luisa Satterly has tried not to worry about how slowly her son, Ryan, was growing. After all, she and Ryan’s father are not exceptionally tall. But in the back of her mind Luisa wondered if Ryan was growing normally. She recently decided to ask Ryan’s pediatrician.
“Parents tend to worry over where their child ranks on the growth charts they see at the pediatrician’s office,” said V. Faye Jones, M.D., pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “These charts only provide a general picture of growth over time.”
“Ryan’s doctor reassured me he is a healthy teenager, but she offered to refer me to a pediatric endocrinologist to evaluate if he is growing normally,” Luisa said.
In most cases, children are following a genetic pattern and their body’s own growth schedule. Growth charts simply determine whether children fall within the “normal” growth range.
“On average, boys and girls from ages 3 to 11 generally grow about 2 to 3 inches per year. When they reach adolescence, they may grow 3 to 4 inches a year,” Dr. Jones said. “But these are only averages that don’t account for timing and environmental factors, along with genetics.”
Many children experience growth spurts followed by periods of very slow growth. Some children grow as much as three times faster during a particular season of the year.
“Nutrition and exercise also are important components to normal growth,” Dr. Jones said. “Parents should make every effort to ensure their child eats a healthy diet and exercises daily. If calories consumed exceed those burned, the child may develop a weight problem.”
Even if a child is a picky eater, parents do not usually have to worry that it is impairing growth, according to Dr. Jones. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the child will starve and thus give in to his or her desire for junk food. As long as the child is gaining weight appropriately and is eating a healthy variety of foods, his or her nutritional needs are usually being met.
All this aside, if you are worried about your child’s height or weight, talk with your pediatrician.
“I feel better knowing the pediatrician is not overly concerned about Ryan,” Luisa said. “He’s healthy, and he is comfortable with his height. If he’s happy, I’m happy.”