Failure to Thrive

General or Other | General Practice | Failure to Thrive (Symptom)


Failure to thrive (FTT) refers to a child whose physical growth is significantly less than that of peers. Children that fail to thrive seem to be much smaller or shorter than other children the same age. Teenagers may not appear to have the usual changes that occur at puberty. However, it is important to remember that the way children grow and develop varies quite a bit.

Symptoms of failure to thrive include: height, weight, and head circumference do not match standard growth charts; weight is lower than 3rd percentile (as outlined in standard growth charts) or 20% below the ideal weight for their height; growth may have slowed or stopped after a previously established growth curve.

In general, the child's rate of change in weight and height may be more important than the actual growth measurements. Children who fail to thrive may have the following delayed or slow to develop: (1) Physical skills such as rolling over, sitting, standing and walking; (2) Mental and social skills; (3) Secondary sexual characteristics (delayed in adolescents).


Failure to thrive in early infancy sometimes results in death, and in older infancy or childhood is an important marker for underlying disease. Causes of failure to thrive are probably many, including unrecognized food allergies leading to refusal of food and vomiting, undiagnosed metabolic disorders, and disease. A specific type of failure to thrive is sometimes seen in abandoned or institutionalized infants who seem to give up and become listless and unwilling to nurse. It is assumed that this phenomenon is emotional in nature, although other factors may also be at work.