MEXICO CITY – Small body stature in young children, which can affect their self-image, in the majority of cases has a solution, but only “if treated in time,” Mexican pediatric endocrinologist Arturo Ayala told EFE on Wednesday.
“It’s necessary to be alert to whether a boy or girl is not growing, on average, six centimeters (2.4 inches) per year between ages 4 and 11,” he said.
Shortness or reduced body size, he said, is defined as yearly growth of 4 cm or more less than the family average.
“To determine the family average (growth rate), one must add the heights of the mother and father, divide that by 2 and add 13 cm in the case of boys, while for girls one subtracts that same quantity, and based on that one can know if there is abnormal growth,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, Mexico is among the 10 Latin American countries with the shortest men and women, with Guatemala having the shortest population in the region.
“This can be a problem for children, since they may often be victims of bullying,” said Zenia Santana, a pediatric endocrinologist with the Mexican Social Security Institute.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mexico is one of the countries with the highest rate of bullying of school-age children.
Estimates are that 12 percent of the children between 4-11 are affected by shortness.
The start of the school year is when “parents can take note of whether there’s a problem with shortness, since that is where it becomes clear whether the child has grown during the last year or not,” Ayala said.
Parents, he said, can note if the child doesn’t require larger clothing, if he or she looks much smaller than other kids or if there is a lack of weight gain.
“Today, it’s known that at least three of every 10 children are undersized during infancy and one in three of them have a hormonal problem that can be treated,” he said.
The child’s habits can be among the causes of smaller body size, but there can also be other factors at work.
“There is a high percentage of children who have allergies, kidney problems, food intolerances that affect growth and, if corrected, there are improvements in growth,” he added.
However, there is a small percentage of children who will require treatment with growth hormones, and so it’s important to always consult with a specialist if parents suspect that their child suffers from reduced body size.
“One must seek advice ... if girls are younger than 9 and boys younger than 11 because after that puberty begins, which is the final phase of growth and it’s much more difficult to modify the trend,” he said.
Ayala went on to say that child obesity – which is one of Mexico’s main public health problems – paradoxically initially stimulates growth but then cuts it short.