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The long and short of it 

Everyone wants to be tall, there is a misconception that tall people have better personalities and are more successful

Dr Gita Mathai Published 22.11.23, 05:59 AM

Everyone wants to be tall, there is a misconception that tall people have better personalities and are more successful. This is not really true. Look at Hilter and Napolean, both short men who managed to conquer half the world.

Parents go to doctors demanding “tonics” and supplements to make their children tall and, therefore, successful. The media also misleads people by carrying advertisements for unproven and untested vitamin and mineral supplements that claim to increase height in children.


We cannot all be of the same height because we humans are not mass-
produced in factories, conforming to standard statistics. A variety of variables determines our eventual adult height. Height is not based on a single gene but is a polygenic inheritance. If you have short parents, you are unlikely to be tall.

Some parents are interested in the prediction of their child’s eventual adult height. There are several methods to calculate this. Add the height of the two parents, take the average and then add 2.5 inches (7.6 cm) for a boy and subtract 2.5 inches (7.6 cm) for a girl.

Give or take an inch, the eventual adult height is double the height on the second birthday. X-ray estimates of bone age and eventual height are considered more accurate. This involves taking x-rays of the left hand and wrist to measure bone age. It is then compared to a standard atlas. Growth charts are available in the doctor’s offices, from which the adult height can be estimated.

There is a hormonal growth spurt during puberty. It occurs earlier in girls. Girls typically stop growing by 15, while boys stop at around 18 years of age. It is complicated to increase height after this age as the bones’ epiphysis (growth centre) fuses after this.

As age advances, there may be a loss of height. People lose one to three inches (2.5 to 7.5 centimetres) in height with age. Over the years, the discs between your spine’s vertebrae flatten, your muscles start to lose mass, the spaces between the joints narrow and osteoporosis sets in.

Nutrition at all stages of life is very important. If the mother does not eat well during pregnancy, both she and the child will be malnourished. The baby will likely be small at birth and become a short adult. Adequate and proper nutrition is essential as an adult to prevent becoming shorter in old age. It is best to eat natural, unprocessed foods without additives, sugar or trans fats. Eat four to six helpings of fruits and vegetables every day all through life. Make sure you maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise strengthens bones and muscles. Hanging from bars in the teenage years can increase height by one to two centimetres. Exercise also improves posture. Good posture not only makes you look tall but also prevents you from getting a curved spine.

Growth occurs during sleep, as that is when the human growth hormone is released. Younger children, therefore, need more sleep. If children (particularly teenagers) do not get the required eight to 10 hours of sleep, not only their health but also their height will get impacted.

Suppose a child is abnormally short and not growing well. In that case, illnesses like Crohn’s or celiac disease, thyroid hormone deficiency, chromosomal abnormalities like Downs syndrome, pituitary problems and other medical conditions should be ruled out. Correction of medical problems early may allow the child to achieve their growth potential.

If there is no correctable cause for the short stature, parents often doctor shop in search of treatments to increase the height of their child. They may demand growth hormone injections or even limb-lengthening surgery. Growth hormone is expensive, the treatment process is long, and it can affect the heart and cause severe side effects.

There are advantages to being short. Medically (if you maintain your weight), you are likely to live longer and are less likely to get heart disease, stroke or even cancer.

The writer has a family practice at Vellore and is the author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues please write to

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