See How They Grow

How can you tell whether your child is growing properly? And is there anything you can do to help his growth along? Here's the lowdown on making sure your child measures up.

What Factors Really Matter?

6 Factors That Affect Growth

  1. Heredity Your child's genetic history is the number-one influence on her growth, says Lynne Levitsky, M.D., chief of the pediatric endocrine unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. Look to Mom and Dad's height, shape, and rate of growth to predict how your child will turn out. Need proof of the power of genes? Studies show that identical twins grow to within an inch of each other in final height.
  2. Nutrition "Without a good diet, kids won't grow normally," says Jo Anne Hattner, R.D., a pediatric specialist at the American Dietetic Association. Be vigilant about making sure your kids consume wholesome calories. Even well-meaning parents can derail a child's healthy diet. Common problems? Incorrectly mixed infant formula, not getting enough calories when you're breastfeeding or weaning, or even efforts to keep an infant from getting "fat." (Babies, no matter how plump, should never be put on diets.) Too much juice or soda can also can interfere with a child's appetite for nutritious foods.
  3. Medical Conditions Some children are born with or develop serious medical conditions that can stunt growth if not treated. The most common: gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease; food allergies; thyroid problems; hormone deficiency; heart, kidney, or liver ailments; and certain chromosomal abnormalities. Medications for common childhood conditions should also be monitored closely. For instance, Ritalin and other stimulants prescribed for ADHD have been found to affect growth. The problem is often dose-related and is usually easily fixed, says Barry B. Bercu, M.D., head of endocrine, diabetes, and metabolism at All Children's Hospital, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
  4. Exercise Regular physical activity promotes growth by strengthening bones and muscles. But beware of getting your child involved in high-impact sports such as gymnastics and running, which -- when done excessively -- can impede growth and even cause trauma to developing bones.
  5. Sleep Make sure your child snoozes soundly each night. About 70 to 80 percent of growth hormone is secreted during sleep, says Paul Saenger, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.
  6. Emotional Well-Being Kids reach their full growth potential when they're in a loving, nurturing, and supportive family environment, says Thomas Moshang, M.D., director of the growth center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Emotional neglect and excessive tension or anxiety can interfere with growth. The condition -- called "psycho-social growth failure" by doctors -- is extremely rare, but its consequences are as real as malnutrition.

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