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History of Pediatrics
December 2001

Weight Charts and Well-Child Care: How the Pediatrician Became the Expert in Child Health

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Fla.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(12):1385-1389. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.12.1385

Weighing children became popular in the 1910s, when public health workers hoped to identify malnourished children based on weight. They measured tens of thousands of children in school halls and church basements, compared their results with standard weight charts, and reported evidence of widespread malnutrition. In the 1920s, physicians argued that a complete medical history and a physical examination, not just weight, were necessary to diagnose malnutrition. By the 1930s, the weight chart had become merely one of the many diagnostic tools used to monitor the health of well children in the physician's office. Weight charts remain an essential part of pediatric practice, but their history is more than a simple tale of scientific progress. This article explores how pediatrics emerged as a primary care specialty in the midst of conflict over the meaning of weight, the professional role of women in medicine, and the pediatrician's preeminence as a child health expert.

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