Failure to thrive: an update

Am Fam Physician. 2011 Apr 1;83(7):829-34.


Failure to thrive in childhood is a state of undernutrition due to inadequate caloric intake, inadequate caloric absorption, or excessive caloric expenditure. In the United States, it is seen in 5 to 10 percent of children in primary care settings. Although failure to thrive is often defined as a weight for age that falls below the 5th percentile on multiple occasions or weight deceleration that crosses two major percentile lines on a growth chart, use of any single indicator has a low positive predictive value. Most cases of failure to thrive involve inadequate caloric intake caused by behavioral or psychosocial issues. The most important part of the outpatient evaluation is obtaining an accurate account of a child's eating habits and caloric intake. Routine laboratory testing rarely identifies a cause and is not generally recommended. Reasons to hospitalize a child for further evaluation include failure of outpatient management, suspicion of abuse or neglect, or severe psychosocial impairment of the caregiver. A multidisciplinary approach to treatment, including home nursing visits and nutritional counseling, has been shown to improve weight gain, parent-child relationships, and cognitive development. The long-term effects of failure to thrive on cognitive development and future academic performance are unclear.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diet Therapy
  • Education
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Failure to Thrive* / diagnosis
  • Failure to Thrive* / etiology
  • Failure to Thrive* / physiopathology
  • Failure to Thrive* / psychology
  • Failure to Thrive* / therapy
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intellectual Disability* / etiology
  • Intellectual Disability* / prevention & control
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Patient Care Team
  • Physical Examination / methods