Use of Percentiles and Z -Scores in Anthropometry

Youfa Wang, Hsin Jen Chen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

137 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Anthropometry
Subtitle of host publicationPhysical Measures of Human Form in Health and Disease
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781441917881
ISBN (Print)9781441917874
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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