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Use of Percentiles and Z-Scores in Anthropometry

  • Youfa Wang
  • Hsin-Jen Chen
Chapter

Abstract

Percentiles and Z-scores are often used to assess anthropometric measures to help evaluate children’s growth and nutritional status. In this chapter, we first compare the concepts and applications of percentiles and Z-scores and their strengths and limitations. Compared to percentiles, Z-scores have a number of advantages: first, they are calculated based on the distribution of the reference population (mean and standard deviation), and thus reflect the reference distribution; second, as standardized quantities, they are comparable across ages, sexes, and anthropometric measures; third, Z-scores can be analyzed as a continuous variable in studies. In addition, they can quantify extreme growth status at both ends of the distribution. However, Z-scores are not straightforward to explain to the public and are hard to use in clinical settings. In recent years, there has been growing support to the use of percentiles in some growth and obesity references. We also discuss the issues related to cut point selections and outline the fitting/smoothing techniques for developing reference curves. Finally, several important growth references and standards including the previous and new WHO growth reference/standards and the US 2000 CDC Growth Charts, are presented and compared. They have been developed based on different principles and data sets and have provided different cut points for the same anthropometric measures; they could, thus, provide different results. This chapter will guide readers to understand and use percentiles and Z-scores based on recent growth references and standards.

Keywords

Growth Standard Growth Chart Growth Reference International Obesity Task Force Percentile Curve 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Abbreviations

BMI

Body mass index

CDC

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

IOTF

International Obesity Task Force

HAZ

Height- or length-for-age Z-score

MGRS

Multicentre Growth Reference Study

NCHS

National Center for Health Statistics

NHANES

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

SD

Standard deviation

WHO

World Health Organization

WHZ

Weight-for-age Z-score

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported in part by research grants from the NIH/NIDDK (R01DK81335-01A1, 1R03HD058077-01A1, R03HD058077-01A1S1) and the Nestle Foundation. We also thank Irwin Shorr for his ­comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Human NutritionBaltimoreUSA

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