This study was carried out to examine the biological and environmental variables associated with non-organic short stature. We observed an unselected population of very short normal children (SN) and their age- and sex-matched controls (C) within the community. All 14,346 children in two health districts entering school during 2 consecutive years were screened for short stature, and those whose height lay below the 3rd centile, according to Tanner and Whitehouse standards (n = 180) were identified. Excluding 32 with pathology, five from ethnic minorities and three who refused to take part, the remaining SN children (mean height SDS-2.26) were matched with 140 age- and sex-matched controls (C) of average height (mean height SDs 0.14). Birth weight, target height and predicted adult height (based on parental height and bone age respectively), medical and social background (obtained from parental interviews), and school performance (assessed by class teachers) were the main outcome measures. Mean birth weight of the SN children was significantly lower than C (SN = 2845 g, C = 3337 g, P < 0.001). Mean mid-parental target height was also very different (SN = 162.0 cm, C = 170.9 cm, P < 0.001). Thirty-five per cent of SN children (C = 6%) had height SD scores below parental target range, though only 10% had predicted heights below target range (mean delay in bone age 0.68 years). There was a significant difference between SN children and C in the number of children in the household (SN = 2.8, C = 2.4 (P = 0.007) and in socio-economic status (P < 0.002). Many more SN children were in social classes IV and V (SN = 31%, C = 13%, P < 0.002), and had an unemployed father (SN = 22%, C = 10%, P < 0.010), highlighting the importance of environmental influences on growth. One in four SN children was judged to have serious psychosocial problems. However, the lower the socio-economic class, the less likely the SN children were to be inappropriately short for parents. Significantly more SN children were reported to have asthma (SN = 18%, C = 7%, P < 0.007) and eczema (SN = 19%, C = 5%, P < 0.001), though only the latter was significantly associated with stature below target height for both SN and C groups. Biological variables are often insufficient to explain short stature. No child, whatever the parental height, should be dismissed as normal without careful evaluation, as poor growth in the early years may be an important pointer to an adverse but potentially remediable environment.
The relationship between short stature and school performance was examined by comparing an unselected cohort of 140 ‘normal’ short children (below 3rd centile) aged between 7 and 9 years with 140 control children of normal height (10th–90th centiles). The short children had unimpaired self‐esteem and normal patterns of behaviour, but a tendency towards hyperactivity and poor concentration. Their IQ scores were normal, but attainment, especially in reading, was low. The underachievement observed in the short children is largely due to the low socio‐economic status of this group. All the children in the study were prepubertal and these data will serve as a baseline for further follow‐up during and after puberty.
Background: The Wessex Growth Study has monitored the psychological development of a large cohort of short normal and average height control participants since school entry. Aims: To examine the effect of stature on their personality functioning now that they are aged 18-20 years.Methods: This report contains data from 48 short normal and 66 control participants. Mean height SD score at recruitment was: short normals 22.62 SD, controls 20.22 SD. Final height SD score was: short normals 21.86, controls 0.07. The Adolescent to Adult Personality Functioning Assessment (ADAPFA) measures functioning in six domains: education and employment, love relationships, friendships, coping, social contacts, and negotiations. Results: No significant effect of recruitment height or final height was found on total ADAPFA score or on any of the domain scores. Socioeconomic status significantly affected total score, employment and education, and coping domain scores. Gender had a significant effect on total score, love relationships, coping, and social contacts domain scores. Salient aspects of daily living for this sample were identified from the interviews (prevalence%): consuming alcohol (94%), further education (63%), love relationships (55%), current drug use (29%), experience of violence (28%), parenthood (11%), and unemployment (9%). Stature was not significantly related to behaviour in any of these areas. Conclusions: Despite previously reported links between short stature and poorer psychosocial adaptation, no evidence was found that stature per se significantly affected the functioning of the participants in these areas as young adults.
In all studies of health-related problems and their effects on well-being, research design issues threaten to compromise the validity of findings. This is particularly so in a longitudinal study, essentially stemming from the tension between maintaining participant compliance and retaining investigator objectivity. Such a tension may be exacerbated where measures of dependent variables such as self-esteem are used alongside the collection of physical data which is essential to the study, as in research into the psychological effects of short stature on children and young people. In this paper one particular project, the Wessex Growth Study, is used to illustrate the common threats to validity, both internal and external, of such research, and to consider future improvements in design. The Wessex Growth Study, set up in 1986, was designed to overcome some of the methodological problems found in earlier research with short stature children. It is following the growth and psychological development through their school years of a cohort of short children (below third centile for height when first identified) and case-matched controls (10th-90th centiles) recruited at school entry (ages 5/6). Findings have generally found only small differences between short and average height children. Though these results so far have mainly been presented cross-sectionally, the young people involved are followed up at 6-monthly intervals for height and other data to be collected, and thus to some extent the study also has the advantages and problems of a longitudinal research design. Using Campbell and Stanley's criteria this article makes clear the strain on both internal and external validity in the study, but argues that these problems are to some extent inherent in all longitudinal psychological research, and are outweighed in the present research by the collection of data on short stature which would not otherwise be available. Future data collection within the study will introduce further improvements in design.
Objective-To assess the impact of recent guidelines from the UK joint working party of child health surveillance recommending that all children be measured at age 5 and again between 7 and 9 years of age to determine how many normal school age children are likely to be referred for specialist assessment. Methods-The longitudinal data of 486 children measured by school nurses in a community setting were examined and compared with measurements made in a research setting by a single, skilled observer. Main outcome measures-Number of children identified as having abnormal stature (< 0.4th or > 99.6th centile) and abnormal growth rate height standard deviation score (HSDS) change > 0.67). Results-The community survey identified seven (1.4%) children as having abnormal stature (four short, three tall), 11 (2.3%) were identified as "slow growing", and nine (1.9%) increased their HSDS by more than 0.67. These results were comparable to data collected in ideal research conditions. Conclusions-Following the recommendations would not result in an excess number of inappropriate referrals. However, this study highlights several unresolved issues such as interobserver variablity and time interval between measurements. A large scale prospective study should be considered to establish realistic and cost-eVective criteria before implementation of a national screening programme. (Arch Dis Child 1998;79:318-322)
Objectives: To determine the timing, magnitude and duration of the pubertal spurt for short normal and average height girls, to compare these with Tanner’s standard and to investigate predictors of pubertal growth. Methods: The growth of 46 short normal and 55 control girls, identified at school entry, was monitored throughout puberty. Height and weight were measured at 6-month intervals from which body mass index (BMI) was derived. Annual velocities were calculated and used to estimate the age and magnitude of peak height velocity (PHV). Age of menarche was recorded to the nearest month. Parents provided information on the child’s medical and social history. Results: The mean age at PHV, the magnitude of PHV and age at menarche were similar for both groups and close to Tanner’s 50th centile values. Pre-pubertal BMI predicted age at menarche for short and control girls, accounting for 17% of the variance. There was a tendency for early maturing girls of average stature to have greater PHV. However, this relationship was not observed in short girls, nor did any other variable, genetic or environmental, predict the timing or magnitude of their pubertal spurt. Conclusions: Delayed puberty in short normal girls is unlikely and their growth during puberty is comparable to girls of average height. The pubertal variables measured remain close to Tanner’s original standards for both groups, suggesting the lack of a secular trend towards earlier puberty in girls. The onset of menstruation is influenced by pre-pubertal BMI. However, the clinician should be aware that short normal girls have normal pubertal growth and that no genetic or environmental variable can predict the timing or magnitude of their growth spurt.
Background: The Wessex Growth Study has monitored the growth and psychological development of short normal (SN) and average height control subjects since they entered school in 1985/1986. During psychometric testing, we found that 25% SN compared to 9% control subjects wrote with their left hand. The short group also attained significantly lower scores on measures of IQ and attainment and displayed less internalisation of control. Laterality, however, is thought to be influenced by the intrauterine environment and has been associated with pubertal delay. At recruitment, short children had a relatively low birth weight, delayed bone age and were more likely than controls to be short for family. Objectives: To determine if birth conditions were associated with lateral preference and whether laterality could account for the differences found during the psychometric assessment or predict pubertal timing of SN children. Methods: Subjects were classified as right- (RH) or left-handed (LH) according to the writing hand and the data were investigated examining the effect of handedness and stature. Results: RH and LH SN children were no more likely to suffer birth complications than those of average height. Psychometric testing did not reveal any significant differences between RH and LH SN children and their patterns of growth appeared to be similar. However, both RH and LH SN children scored less well on tests of cognitive ability and analyses of covariance revealed significant gender/handedness effects for both the timing of puberty and final height. Conclusions: The increase in left-handedness among SN children did not appear to be related to adverse birth conditions, but it may be that the hormones responsible for growth and development also play some part in brain laterality and cognitive development.
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