An individual’s height is mainly determined by their genes. However, environmental factors such as nutrition, sleep, or physical exercise play an important role in how tall we’ll become.
Also, socioeconomic status, stress, and urbanization influence people’s height. And even before we are born certain factors can make an impact on our adult height.
Prenatal Height Growth Factors
Environmental factors play a significant role even before birth. Among others, the maternal age, order of birth, and crowding within the uterus determine the weight and height of babies. First-born babies, have on average a birth weight of about 100 grams less than second or third-born babies.
The growth of the fetus can be inhibited by illness in the mother, malnutrition, or therapeutic drug treatment. A deficiency of protein, calories, or trace elements in the mother’s diet can also leadsto fetal growth inhibition.
Maternal malnutrition is also linked to a reduction in brain development of a fetus. Especially alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and drug addiction are known to have a severe effect on the weight and height of babies. Smoking can also increase the risk of prematurity.
Postnatal Height Growth Factors
After birth, nutrition, illness, socio-economic status, urbanization, physical exercise, climate, and psychosocial deprivation primarily influence the growth of children and adolescents.
Malnutrition harms growth, involving both height and weight. In underdeveloped countries, malnutrition is the prime reason for the stunted growth of children.
During adolescence, teenagers require an adequate intake of calories. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, which is common among adolescent girls, harm growth development. They can result in a reduced or delayed pubertal growth spurt.
Some stimulation drugs for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are suspected to inhibit the growth as well.
Socio-economic Status, Urbanization and Stress
Higher socioeconomic status often leads to a surplus in height growth. This relies on the assumption that a higher income entails better child care, better nutrition, and better medical and social services.
Over the last century, people in Europe, North America, and Australia have become taller and matured earlier on account of strong socio-economic development.
Urbanization is also correlated with a taller body stature as people have better access to food, adequate health and sanitation services, education, recreation, and welfare. Overcrowded slums in underdeveloped countries are an exemption as children in the slums often suffer under poor living conditions.
Exposure to psychosocial stress can suppress the secretion of the human growth hormone and result in stunted growth. The human growth hormone (HGH) is produced in your brain and helps to regulate muscle and bone growth, body composition, body fluids, and sugar and fat metabolism. However, once the chronic stress level is removed, growth hormone secretion normalizes, followed by a period of catch-up growth.
Surprisingly, the seasons and changes in climate can also affect the body growth rate, mainly due to an altered availability in the food supply.
There are conflicting reports related to the effect of physical exercise on height growth development and skeletal maturation.
Excessive exercise may impair the growth by damaging the growth plates, while an adequate intensity level of exercise contributes to the ideal shaping of bone and muscle tissues.
Just like sleep, physical exercise is a strong impulse for the secretion of the human growth hormone. The exercise-induced growth hormone response (EIGR) shows the increase of the growth hormone production by some specific behavior. To increase the growth period per day, long-interval exercise, or several exercise sessions a day may be beneficial.
It has been proven that weight-bearing exercises, including walking, hiking, playing tennis or dancing, are generally good for your bone health. Also, resistance exercises such as weight-lifting can strengthen bones.
Moderate exercise does not only improve your bone health, but it can also increase muscle strength, coordination, and lead to better overall health.
Sleep is potentially another influential factor for an individual’s height. It’s well known that while we sleep at night our bodies release all sorts of hormones and most of our growth and recovery happens at this time.
Also, studies showed that shorter sleep duration leads to a higher risk of overweight and obesity for all pediatric age groups.
However, studies associating sleep deprivation with deficits in height growth are still insufficient. A study conducted with 5,145 US-American children aged 5 to 11 years showed that there was only a weak correlation between sleep duration and height. It concluded that variation in sleep duration between children is unlikely to have an important influence on growth.
Height is primarily determined by the genes inherited by the parents, but many environmental factors can affect the development of children and adolescents.
Most importantly, children and teenagers need good nutrition that enables them to thrive. Getting enough sleep and exercise is also helping them to grow their bones properly. Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy are also important for the future health and development of babies.
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