Height Misconceptions

Height often plays an important role in people’s lives. Medically, pediatricians use the growth chart to make sure that a child is growing at the proper rate. In many sports, such as volleyball and basketball, being tall is an important factor. Yet a shorter running back in football is advantageous, because he is not seen behind large offensive linemen and his shorter center of gravity makes him harder to tackle. Of all U.S. Presidents, only five were more than an inch below average height. However, short men have made many contributions: Al Pacino and Michael J Fox in acting; Pablo Picasso in art; King Hussein of Jordan; and Angus Young, lead singer-guitarist of AC/DC.


The question always arises about nature and nurture in growth. How much of height is due to genetics and how much is because of nutrition? Presently, scientists believe that approximately 60 to 80 percent of someone’s height is because of genetics and 20 to 40 percent can be attributed to environment. They look at family growth charts and twins to determine this connection. A study in Australia followed the growth of 3,375 sets of twins and reported that 80 percent of the children inherited their height.

Yet not all differences about height are understood. For example, Canadians on average are now taller than Americans, although they have the same diet. Plus, the upward growth of America’s youths has stopped, but Canadians are still getting taller. The reason remains unknown. Similarly, Dutch women average 5′ 8″, or about four inches taller than American women.


Pediatricians begin to use growth charts as soon as a baby is born. Until a child is three years old, the doctor follows brain development by measuring head circumference, or the distance around the largest part of the head. Body weight and length are measured until a youth is 20 years old. The information is plotted on a chart, where the height and weight are presented in percentiles through curved lines. The doctor puts the recorded height and weight on the curve and can then determine the percentile of the child’s growth. The higher the percentile, the taller the child is in relationship with other children the same age and gender, and the lower the percentile, the shorter the child. There are separate growth charts for boys and girls, because their growth patterns differ. There are also different charts for children with such conditions as Down syndrome.


It is important that children remain on their own individual growth curve. For example, a girl may be in the 50th percentile, indicating that half of girls her age are taller than her and half are shorter. From this proportional curve, it is also possible to determine the height of an individual as an adult. Any inconsistencies can indicate a health problem. For example, a doctor will be concerned if a four-year-old has been on the 40th percentile since birth and suddenly stops growing or drops to the 20th percentile over a period of time. Concern is also raised when children do not get taller at the same rate as they get heavier. If a boy is on the 30th percentile for height but on the 65th percentile for weight. This could be a health or nutritional problem. However, many children have changes in growth at specific times in their development. During infancy and puberty, for example, it is normal for growth rates to vary.


Some parents request that their son or daughter receive hormone injections, which boost height in very short but healthy children. However, studies show that the height boost peaks at about three inches. Even after receiving the treatment, children who receive growth hormone injections remain relatively short. They grow faster compared to untreated children and do get taller, but are still short in comparison to others of the same age and gender. Since genetics mostly determine the final height of a person, parents need to recognize that the hormone can only do so much. Also, children who are treated with the growth hormone may go through puberty earlier than others. This ironically reduces the growth period for the bones, which may ultimately limit the youth’s final height.


Studies show that a person’s height influences how she influences others. The height of a man is an essential factor in sexual attractiveness for most women. Taller men are more successful in reproduction, because they usually marry earlier and have more children. Other research indicates that business executives of about 6’3″ or 6’4″ have higher incomes than their fellow shorter employees.Yet the very tall have some problems, as well. Although relatively tall men have longer lives, study results find that those who are taller than 6’2″ do not have as positive of a life expectancy. This is due to an increased risk of heart disease.