Why is Monitoring Growth important?
Assessing a child’s height is a great indicator of their general health . When a child experiences abnormal growth, this may indicate the child has a disease or health condition that can affect their final adult stature or well-being . Early detection of abnormal growth allows for an appropriate medical diagnosis, and in some cases, may even be treatable . The later a growth problem goes unrecognised/unreported, the opportunities for medical assistance for that child decreases.
Most countries have different standards for assessing short stature and abnormal growth which is relevant to their population. For example, in the UK, a child’s height below the 0.4th percentile is assigned as severe short stature . While in the Netherlands, sever short stature is anything greater than -2.5 standard deviations from the norm . Although this accounts for a small portion of each country’s population, the fact remains that assessment of children’s height should be assessed against normative growth reference charts for identification.
In 2004, The World Health Organization (WHO) assessed growth and development in young children all over the world . Specifically, they studied 8,440 children from six countries of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds (Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman, and the USA) to more comprehensively understand growth. Their findings report that healthy children are more likely to reach full genetic potential when living under healthy conditions which include: nutrition, BMI, breastfeeding, and parents refraining from smoking. While broad, this indicates that regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or type of breastfeeding, children can grow normally when living in optimal healthy conditions.
As alluded to previously, all children do not grow at the same rate, nor in a linear fashion. As a result, it is crucial that all sports performance professionals, understand if an athlete is growing at a “normal” rate, or if, for some reason, their growth appears to be “abnormal” (e.g. stunted). By measuring growth rates on an ongoing basis, the coach/practitioner will be able to identify if an athlete is experiencing a period of “abnormal” growth, and being able to do so could be vital for that child’s health and performance.
Though the coach/practitioner may be capable of identifying whether or not an athlete might be experiencing a period of abnormal (e.g. stunted) growth, they cannot, and should not, attempt to diagnose the issue themselves. Instead, the coach/practitioner needs to make an educated and strategic decision regarding the proceeding course of action; for example, notifying the parent(s) and/or a qualified medical practitioner.
The reason for this is simply because a child’s growth may be abnormal (e.g. stunted) for a myriad of complex reasons. Some of which may include:
- Genetic predisposition (e.g. Achondroplasia)
- Illness (e.g. thyroid disease)
- Endocrine disorders
- Injury (e.g. damage of the epiphyseal plates in bones)
In some cases, for example, the coach/practitioner may not want to inform the parent(s) directly as the issue could be the result of malnutrition which may have arisen from issues at the child’s home (e.g. domestic abuse). Collectively, all of this information highlights the severity and complexity of potential problems surrounding a child’s growth.