Parents Worry For Short Children

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Parents Worry For Short Children
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Parents of short children often worry about their child’s well-being, but a University of Michigan Health System study shows that short children are no different in their social or emotional well-being compared with their taller classmates.

In an article appearing online today and in the September issue of Pediatrics, University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Pediatric Endocrinologist Joyce Lee, M.D., MPH, reports that short children fare just as well as their taller counterparts in terms of popularity, social support, and optimism. Furthermore, they are no more likely to experience negative consequences such as depressive symptoms or behavioral problems.

“Our study can help reassure parents that children with short stature do just as well socially and emotionally as their taller peers,” says Lee, a member of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at Mott.

The authors evaluated 712 boys and girls in the sixth grade, who were of short or normal stature. Short stature was defined as a height measuring below the 10th percentile on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control growth charts. For example, an 11-year-old child was classified as short if his or her height was less than 4 feet, 5 inches tall.

The study included teachers’ opinions on how popular and social short children were compared with peers. In regards to popularity, short and taller children scored the same.

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Researchers also adjusted results for several factors such as race, socioeconomic status and gender and results remained the same: short children had social and emotional functioning similar to tall children regardless of these factors.

Their findings were similar to previous studies showing that short children report higher rates of teasing and victimization. But children do not experience significant psychosocial problems associated with their height.

“Teasing is common in childhood,” the authors noted. “However we speculate that short children who are called “midget,” “shrimp,” or “shorty,” by their peers may perceive this teasing in a personal way.”

Pediatricians may have more data to back them up when parents express concern about medical treatments that temporarily delay growth. For example stimulant use for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and inhaled corticosteroid use for asthma have sometimes been associated with small and temporary growth deficits.

The results of the study allow pediatricians and other primary care providers to reassure parents that these temporary decreases in growth, leading to short stature, are unlikely to have a significant impact on their child’s quality of life, authors say.

Since the approval of growth hormone therapy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003, pediatricians increasingly encounter parents who ask about hormone therapy for their short and even moderate height child.

“Seeking specialty evaluation and treatment purely on the basis that a short child will be happier seems unwarranted,” Lee says. “The best approach is reassuring them they are healthy and well.”

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