Promoting Healthy Growth in Children

Professor Gary Butler

Childhood growth is routinely assessed by comparison with growth standards. The science of growth, or auxology, is a relatively new one. The first description of the growth of one individual child is ascribed to the 18th century French naturalist Gueneau de Montbeillard. The first published use of measurements of children at all ages was in Boston USA in the late 19th century. This began an interest in the measurement of children routinely.

After the First World War, the British government was dismayed at the health of potential recruits. One of the first tasks of the newly formed Medical Research Council was to investigate the link between the environment, nutrition and a child’s health using height and weight as indices of wellbeing. The effect was very clear, and the need for good child nutrition and care became a public health matter.

Assessing growth has always been an important matter but appropriate reference standards were not always available. Constructing growth charts became an art, with different approaches. Many children of different ages measured all at once produced charts for ready reference of height and weight, but didn’t give information about how a single child grew. Small numbers of children measured serially provided much information on the pattern of growth-longitudinal charts- but took a long time to construct hence limiting their validity.

Other challenges include the depiction of the adolescent growth spurt, a phenomenon unique to humans. Several attempts have been made to portray the wide variations in height and weight growth on a single chart, but obtaining useable standards for clinical practice is challenging.

To find out more about Gary read his biography here

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