But there’s a problem: A new study suggests that most parents don’t know how to read the charts and may think a child’s weight is perfectly fine, when, in fact, the child is obese or overweight compared to peers.
More than 12.5 million children and adolescents are overweight, and these numbers are on the rise, according to the U.S. surgeon general. If most parents don’t realize that their child is overweight, the new study, which appears in the October 4 issue of the journal Pediatrics, has implications in the war against childhood obesity.
In an Internet survey of 1,000 parents, 79% said they had seen a growth chart before, and the majority of these parents believed they understood the information. In fact, about one-third of parents said they used a growth chart at home.
However, only 64% of respondents could correctly determine a child’s weight by looking at plotted points on a growth chart. What’s more, up to 77% incorrectly interpreted the data when looking at a combined height/weight measurement chart. Only 56% were able to correctly define percentile in a multiple-choice question. A percentile, which is shown as lines drawn in curved pattern on a growth chart, measures how a child compares to his or her peers in height and weight.
Specifically, 51% of parents did not understand that a child in the 10th percentile for height (meaning they are shorter than most of their peers) and 90th percentile for weight (meaning they weigh more than most of their peers) was overweight.
The survey was conducted by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, a consulting medical editor at KidsHealth and the Nemours Center for Children's Health Media, and a pediatrician at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, in Wilmington, Del., and colleagues.