Short normal stature and psychosocial disadvantage: a critical review of the evidence

J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Jun;14(6):701-11. doi: 10.1515/jpem.2001.14.6.701.


Physicians and parents alike are under increasing pressure to identify and to treat short stature, but intervention implies the presence of some pathology, physical or psychological, that can be corrected. Where there is true GH deficiency, the argument for replacement is uncontroversial. It is less compelling where GH 'insufficiency' is diagnosed. In the case of the short, but otherwise normal, child the indications for therapy are even less clear. Short stature, per se, is clearly not a disease, in spite of the perception by some practitioners that the rate of growth of such children is abnormal. Short stature is, however, commonly perceived to be associated with social and psychological disadvantage, yet many of these misperceptions about short stature can be challenged. A critical review of the literature pertaining to the psychosocial correlates of short stature uncovers much flawed evidence. Most importantly, the belief, widely held by paediatricians, that short children are likely to be significantly disadvantaged, has been founded largely on data from clinic-referred samples. In such studies, children with real (or perceived) behavioural or academic problems are likely to be overly represented. Publications arising from such studies, however, inevitably lead to an increase in the demand for treatment both from and for those who previously had no such concern. In contrast, data from a well controlled, prospective population-based study suggest the essential normality of the short normal child. Parents and children alike should be reassured by these findings. In the absence of clear pathology, physical or psychological, GH therapy for short but otherwise normal children must therefore, in most cases, be deemed cosmetic, raising issues as to the ethics of so-called "plastic endocrinology".

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Body Height*
  • Child
  • Employment
  • Humans
  • Psychology*
  • Reference Values
  • Schools