According to singer Randy Newman, “short people got no reason to live.” It would seem that some parents believe the lyrics to be true, based on the anxiety with which they try to “fix” the “height problem” of their diminutive youngsters. They worry that their undersized offspring will lag behind peers socially and that other kids will pick on them, but a new study may help those concerned parents chill out.
The study, just published in the journal Pediatrics, followed 712 sixth graders, 28 of whom were considerably under normal height. The researchers found that the short children were just as well-adjusted, happy, and popular as kids of normal height. Although the shorter kids did report more instances of being teased and victimized, they weren’t any more depressed or troubled than the other children.
Study author Dr. Joyce M. Lee of the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor, says, “There’s just a lot of stereotypes about short stature and its impact on the well-being of children. What I would stress is, parents should really be reassured by this data, [and] even if they have a child of moderate short stature, it’s not likely to have any impact on their emotional and behavioral well-being….children with short stature do just as well socially and emotionally as their taller peers.”
The researchers focused on sixth graders because that’s the age at which kids usually become obsessed with physical characteristics. Pre-adolescents who deviate from the norm in terms of height theoretically would experience more psychological and social stress during these years. Parents, however, seem to experience the stress sooner, sometimes requesting growth hormones for their diminutive kids. In the year 2004, companies that manufacture growth hormones for children raked in well over $1.5 billion in sales. The argument in favor of dispensing the hormones has been that the short kids suffer so much — that taking the hormones should help them socially. But based on the new data, Dr. Lee says, “Seeking specialty evaluation and treatment purely on the basis that a short child will be happier seems unwarranted.”
Does this mean that drug companies will see a huge loss as parents of short children wait it out, hoping their kids will experience a growth spurt? Not likely. While pharmaceutical companies might lose a little money in the sale of growth hormones, they can use the study’s argument to bolster sales of several leading pediatric drugs — including drugs for asthma and for hyperactivity. These drugs tend to delay growth and so result in short height during childhood; now, the drug companies have a case to convince parents not to worry. As the University of Michigan’s own Health Newsletter says, “The results of the study allow pediatricians and other primary care providers to reassure parents that these temporary decreases in growth [resulting from pediatric drugs], leading to short stature, are unlikely to have a significant impact on their child’s quality of life.”
Then again, it’s unlikely that most of these “concerned” parents will find the results of this study reassuring enough to quit worrying…and in fact, perhaps that worry isn’t totally unwarranted. While short children seem to fare fine, once they reach adulthood, if they remain short they may run into problems. This especially applies to short men. Several studies have found that short men earn considerably less than taller men (up to 25 percent less). One study found that for every extra inch in height, men earned another $789 in higher wages per year And a University of Pittsburgh study revealed that although, “The average height of a man in the United States is five foot nine…more than half of the CEO’s in the American Fortune 500 are over six feet tall, and only three percent are less than five foot seven.” Other studies have shown that taller men are more likely to get married and that they have, on average, more children than shorter men.
So is Randy Newman right? Do short people have no reason to live? Hardly! They may simply have reason to combat the stereotypes that abound regarding height, and to work on self-esteem so that they assert themselves as powerfully as their taller compatriots. Parents of short children can support this process by not flipping out if Johnny falls below the 50th percentile. (Also, they can remember that short children don’t necessarily grow up short.)
Before resorting to the last-resort option of synthetic hormone treatments, consider the fact that if your kid doesn’t have a growth hormone deficiency but you’re contemplating hormone therapy anyway, those treatments up the risk of diabetes, abnormal bone growth, intracranial pressure, hypertension, hardening of the arteries, overgrowth of cardiac and kidney tissue, and colon cancer. Even if your child does have a growth hormone deficiency, there can be side effects such as nausea, rashes, carpal tunnel syndrome, itching, fatigue, infection, growth of breast tissue in boys and so on. Synthetic hormones are relatively new to the market and the long-term effects aren’t really known. At best, the hormones can add a few inches to final height and can speed up the process of getting there. Unless your children’s height deficiency is dramatic, you might want to think twice about showing them your worry or taking drastic measures to make them taller, and instead concentrate on making them feel accepted just as they are.
And as a final thought, keep in mind that:
- Mahatma Gandi was only 5’3″
- Paul Simon (singer/songwriter) is only 5’2″
- Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome) was also just 5’2″
- And Dolly Parton is a cool 5′ even