Anxiety Tied to Stunted Growth in Girls

  • April 26, 2010
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The Sick Child by Edvard Munch

Excerpted and paraphrased from an article in the New York Times by Susan Gilbert

Adolescent and pre-adolescent girls who were overly anxious grew up to be roughly one to two inches shorter, on average, than other girls, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

The reason: children and adults of both sexes with anxiety or depression have lower-than-normal amounts of growth hormone which stimulates the growth of muscle and bone in children and teenagers.

The study followed 716 boys and girls from adolescence or pre-adolescence until adulthood, assessing their symptoms of depression, separation anxiety, characterized by excessive uneasiness about leaving home, and overanxious disorder, characterized by worrying about appearance or academic performance, among other things.

The researchers found that 226 of the girls and 149 of the boys initially showing some symptoms of overanxious disorder, and 168 of the girls and 124 of the boys initially having signs of separation anxiety.

But nine years later, anxiety was associated with shorter adult stature only for the girls. The researchers explained that depression and anxiety disorders are relatively rare in boys after puberty, the period when the connection with height appears to be most significant.

The older the children were when a diagnosis was made, the stronger its influence was on stature, the researchers found. The strongest association was seen in girls who were 11 to 20 when separation anxiety was diagnosed; they were 1.7 inches shorter than the girls in whom no emotional problems had been found.

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