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How Short Kids Measure Up to Their Peers

Relax Parents, Study Shows Short Children Aren't More Prone to Emotional or Social Problems
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 17, 2009 -- Parents of short children, stop worrying. A new study shows that short children are no more likely to be depressed, unpopular with their classmates, or have other social and emotional problems than their taller peers.

The study, published in Pediatrics, analyzed data on 712 sixth-graders. Twenty-eight children were classified as having short stature (they were below the 10th percentile on a growth chart); the remaining children were non-short stature (10th percentile and up). Average height was considered between 25th and 75th percentiles.

The children's social and emotional well-being was measured through a number of questionnaires answered by their teachers and the children themselves. Short children reported slightly higher levels of being victimized or teased by their peers, but there was no difference on other measures of depression, behavioral problems, or popularity.

As soon as a baby is born, pediatricians start monitoring that child’s height and weight by percentile. Although low numbers may create anxiety in parents, that anxiety is likely unwarranted, the researchers write.

The short children in the study "reported marginally higher levels of peer victimization ... this was not associated with poorer adaptation," conclude Joyce Lee, MD, MPH with the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues.

Short children may interpret the everyday teasing as more significant because their parents “verbalize concerns about their child’s height and its possible negative impact on social functioning,” the researchers write. The authors encourage pediatricians to reassure parents who are concerned.

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