The right height for your hips

The right height for your hips

If you want life to begin around 40 then you have to invest during childhood. Many medical conditions that appear in adult life find their beginnings in infancy. A team of scientists from the Medical Research Council’s Environmental Epidemiology Unit has now discovered that people who had poor height gain in childhood are more likely to fracture a hip during adulthood.

Led by Professor Cyrus Cooper of Southampton University, the research analysed over 7,000 medical records of people born between 1924 and 1933 in Helsinki, Finland. The documents recorded their size at birth, growth and living conditions in childhood and their hospital admissions in adulthood.

Statistical analysis showed that the slowest growing children were more likely to suffer a hip fracture. “This is the first time that researchers have had hard evidence that low childhood growth rates are linked to hip fractures in adult life,” comments Professor Cooper. “It seems likely that environmental influences which modify childhood growth are responsible.

“Such influences could include a mother who smoked in pregnancy or who had a poor diet, exposure to infections during infancy and early childhood or low calcium intake and lack of physical activity in later childhood.”

A separate analysis revealed that people who had a mother taller that 1.6 metres were also at increased risk of hip fracture. The researchers finding suggests that fractures might arise from a conflict between the genetic drive for bone growth and the environmental influences which affect the mineralisation of bones during childhood.

Both studies show the importance of a healthy diet in childhood. Just as a wall is more likely to collapse if a builder skimps on cement powder in his mortar, newly formed bone is structurally weak when children do not receive sufficient nutrients to match growth.

As the body of evidence into the childhood causes of adult medical conditions grows, governments and health institutions should begin to see the economic benefits of investing in childhood nutrition as a means of medical prevention for later in life.