Growth & Development

Busting Myths Around Height Growth in Kids

Written by Dr. Tejal Kanwar
Published: March 22, 2024
Gynecologist and obstetrician with expertise in Adolescent Health. Founder of Kleinetics Fitness, a leading tech enabled kids fitness program. Winner of the best physical education and sports education program by The Indian Education Awards 2020.

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What exactly is growth? 

The increase of a child’s height and weight, accompanied by various other changes in the organs can be defined as physical growth. Usually, children grow rapidly from birth to the age of 1. On an average, babies grow 10 inches in length. In the first year itself, their weight increases three-fold. During this phase (0-1 year), the average male child grows approximately 26cm per year, whilst the average female child grows approximately 25cm.

An important phase of development in adolescents is puberty, a period of partially concurrent changes which include growth acceleration, alteration in body composition and appearance of secondary sex characteristics. Simply put, it is a phase characterised by an acceleration and subsequent deceleration in skeletal growth. 

Peak height velocity (PHV) is the period of time in which a child experiences the most rapid change in their stature during their adolescent growth spurt

However, the notion that humans grow quickest during puberty is nothing more than a myth. Actually, the fastest increase in a child is observed during the first year of their life, after birth. 

During the adolescent growth spurt, the average male typically achieves a PHV of approximately 8.3cm, and females approximately 7.8cm. Regardless of growth rates during the first year of their life, the adolescent growth spurt is the most pertinent from a fitness and sports coach point of view.

Till what age height increases?

The upper age limit for height spans from the age of 18 to 20. No matter what, an individual’s height will not increase beyond this age. 

This is because of the presence of growth plates (otherwise known as epiphyseal plates). These are areas of specialised cartilage of long bones, which are still “open” or “active” and unfused. During the end of puberty, hormonal changes cause the growth plates to harden or “close” and fuse. Hence, the lengthening of bones slows down. These plates close around the age of 16 in a growing girl and between ages 14 and 19 for boys. Other research has indicated that the high of discs in your spine may continue to increase throughout young adulthood. However, the impact on overall height is minimal. 

Here are some quick facts on the increase in heights during puberty

  • The length of puberty depends on a range of factors.
  • For boys, there is some evidence that being overweight  can result in puberty occurring at an older age but more studies need to be carried out to prove this. 
  • Boys may start puberty as early as 9. The visible changes hit between 11 and 14 and puberty period may last for 3 to 4 years. Boys may continue to gain height till they are 18 or even 20.
  • Boys tend to start puberty around a year or two later than girls. 
  • This means that boys may be shorter than girls of a similar age for 1 to 2 years.
  • Girls may start puberty as early as 8 – 9 which can go up to 16. Once it begins it lasts for 2 to 5 years.
  •  the growth spurt occurs between 10 and 14 in girls.
  • Females usually experience their fastest height increase around the age 11 or 12. 
  • They grow just 1 to 2 additional inches in the year or two after getting their first period. This is when they reach their adult height. Most girls reach their adult height by age 14 or 15.

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Myths Around Height Growth in Kids

  • Drinking milk to increase height is one of the most common advice you may hear which is not a fact.
  • Lifting weights will stunt your child’s growth

Lifting weights will not stunt your child’s growth. However, you need to be aware of certain exercises that may be harmful. 

  • Height is determined solely by genetics

There are many other factors like diet, posture, exercise routine, sleeping habits that contribute to height increase in kids.

  • The height increasing insoles will help them grow taller

The technique is reflexology where a specialist locates individual pressure spots on the feet and designs a special type of insole so that pressure can be applied to certain spots on the feet and can help in height growth. But in reality, this technique really does not help.

So, what factors actually affect height growth in kids? 

1. Nutrition plays a huge role. Malnourished children are often shorter and smaller than expected. With the appropriate balance of vitamins and macronutrients, they may be able to catch up before adulthood. 

Although a child may not be able to change their height substantially as an adult, there are things they can do to maximize their height potential in their teenage years. Having a nutritious diet can help throughout. However, being overweight or indulging in overeating is a type of malnourishment. This is mainly the reason why many individuals in modern society are deficient in important nutrients like vitamin D and calcium, which are very important for bone growth and overall health. Calcium from the diet alters hormone production in a way that benefits your bones while Vitamin D improves bone health. 

A great way to combat nutrient deficiencies and promote optimal bone growth is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. High protein intake cannot harm your bones. In fact, higher protein intake is helpful for strengthening the bone density of the spine (33Trusted Source). In order to increase protein intake, one must try to consume at least 20 grams of protein in a single meal. Eggs, poultry, lean meats, dairy, soy and other legumes are rich sources of protein and must form an important part of a child’s diet. 

Teenagers require a sufficient calorie intake during adolescence. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, which is common among adolescent girls, impede growth. They can cause a pubertal growth spurt to be postponed or delayed.

While proper nutrition during childhood is essential for reaching your greatest height, there may be differences between girls and boys.

2. Socio-economic status, stress, and urbanization actually have an impact on height.

Adequate height growth is frequently associated with higher socio-economic position. This is based on the fact that a higher income equates to better child care, nutrition, and medical and social services. Because of great socio economic development, people in Europe, North America, and Australia have recently grown taller. 

As a result of urbanisation, people have easy access to fortified food, proper health services, education, recreation, and clubs. Overcrowded slums with terrible living conditions have deleterious effects. 

Moreover, psychosocial stress can cause the release of the human growth hormone to be suppressed, resulting in stunted growth. The human growth hormone (HGH) is created in your brain and is a hormone that helps you grow.

3. Hormonal imbalance – Low thyroid or growth hormone levels can lead to slower growth rates and shorter adult height. Growth hormone treatment, alone or in combination with a GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) analogue, are some techniques for increasing adult height. These treatments may have potentially harmful effects in children whose puberty is happening at a medically normal time. Also, these techniques are expensive and invasive (requiring regular injections). Therefore, before this therapy may be widely advised to augment adult height, more controlled research on its efficacy and safety are needed.

4. Sleep – It’s well known that our bodies release a variety of hormones while we sleep, and that this is when we grow and heal the most. For all paediatric age groups, the link between reduced sleep duration and the risk of overweight and obesity is well established. However, further research is required to prove a link between low sleep duration and a lack of height growth.

Teenagers need 8 to 9 hours sleep a night. A healthy sleep pattern means going to bed at around the same time each night and not staying up too late.

5. Medications: Steroids can slow growth when used over prolonged periods in conditions like asthma or skin disorders .

6. Chronic illness: Bowel disorders, cystic fibrosis, kidney diseases or cancers can lead to shorter height to due malnourishment

7. Genetic conditions: Kids suffering from Noonan syndrome and Turner syndrome are shorter Those with Marfan syndrome are taller.

8. Psychosocial stress can suppress the secretion of the human growth hormone and result in restricted growth. The human growth hormone (HGH) is produced in your brain and helps to regulate muscle and bone growth.

Other tips that can help increase height in growing girls and boys are:

  • Eating a healthy diet including getting enough sleep and exercise is essential. 
  • Focusing on sports and fitness during pre pubescent years can help in growth by making muscles and bone stronger. 
  • Posture correction goes a long way in feeling confident and not losing some inches by slouching.
  • Plenty of running, climbing, tumbling and pulling up helps in an active lifestyle with good growth.

To sum it all up, the height in children and adolescents is mostly influenced by the genes they acquire from their parents. Although, many environmental influences can influence their development. Above all, children and teenagers require proper nourishment in order to grow. 

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.