Environmental Factors that Affect Height Growth

A person’s adult height is determined by both genetic and environmental factors such as nutrition or physical exercise. A healthy bone structure builds the foundation to fulfill the maximum height growth potential. Find out more in this blog post about the environmental factors that affect a healthy bone structure and adult height by about 20~40 %.

Prenatal Growth Factors

Pregnant woman's belly with a baby inside, conceptual motherhood

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, for example, have a birth weight of about 100 g less than second or third 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 leads to 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 Growth Factors

environmental factors affecting height growth of children or adolescents

After birth, nutrition, illness, socio-economic status, urbanization, physical exercise, climate, and psychosocial deprivation primarily influence the growth of children and adolescents. Malnutrition has a negative effect on 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 the growth development and can result in a reduced or delayed pubertal growth spurt. Stimulation drugs can have a negative effect on growth too. Some stimulation drugs for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are suspected to inhibit the growth.

Socio-Economic Status, Urbanization, and Stress Influence the Height Growth Development

As highlighted in our previous post, a higher socio-economic 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 suffer under poor living conditions.

Exposure to psychosocial stress can suppress the secretion of the human growth hormone and result in stunted growth. 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.

Moderate Exercise is Beneficial for Height Growth

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.

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