Tue 7 September, 2004 15:29
By Charnicia E. Huggins
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents of a short child who believe growth hormone therapy will better his or her social life may be mistaken, new study findings suggest.
Among lower and upper grade students in one public school district in New York City, height had little effect on which children were the most popular or who had the most friends.
The "good news" of the study is that "teens see through physical characteristics," lead study author Dr. David E. Sandberg, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, told Reuters Health.
"A person's height on its own tells us nothing about how well that individual is liked by others, perceived by others, or what they're like," he added.
About 40,000 children in the United States are currently receiving treatment for growth hormone deficiencies. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration also approved the use of growth hormone to treat children who just happen to be short but are otherwise healthy.
This approval was partly based on the belief that an increase in height would improve peer relationships. Yet, few studies have examined whether extremely short children indeed have social problems that are due solely to their height.
To investigate, Sandberg, a pediatric psychologist, and his team conducted a study of height and social adjustment among 956 sixth-through-twelfth graders from 45 different classrooms in a Western New York public school district. Of this group, 68 students were of short stature; 58 were extremely tall.
The children listed names of classmates they regarded as their friends and their best friends and afterwards rated their friends, as well as their other classmates on the extent to which they liked or did not like them. In a separate exercise, students also assessed the character of their peers, indicating, for example, who among the students "is a good leader," or "has trouble making friends," or "is often left out."
Based on students' responses, short children were no more or less liked by their peers than were average-height or tall children, the researchers report in the September issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.
Height also did not influence children's choices of friends or best friends and had no impact on which friendships were reciprocated. Further, children did not seem to take height into consideration when they chose friends, so short children did not necessarily have friends with heights similar to their own.
"In our society many people believe taller is better," Sandberg said, and the same sentiment is "likely in the minds of parents, clinicians and kids."
In fact, the stereotypes about the plight of short people are so strong that Sandberg was surprised at his study's findings. He expected the short children to be less popular, less liked and to have a reputation of being more withdrawn than their peers, he told Reuters Health.
Also contrary to Sandberg's expectations, there were no gender differences among the study participants. According to popular notion, height is more important for boys than it is for girls. In the study, however, short stature was no more detrimental to boys' social adjustment than it was for girls'.
Although some parents have reported that their short child tends to be treated as younger than their age and is often teased about his or her height, Sandberg said adults should know that all adolescents experience teasing. Some children are teased about their height, others are teased about other physical characteristics, and still others may be teased about being a nerd, he said.
"Short stature can be a lightning rod for (parents') worry," he said.
Summing up, Sandberg said this study confirms that there is no relationship between height and social adjustment, "despite all of the nonsense we believe."
SOURCE: Pediatrics, September 2004.