Background: Studies comparing the growth of indigenous high-altitude Aymara children and children of low-altitude European descent who have been born and raised at high altitude in the Andes have provided evidence for genetically-determined differences in thorax growth, as well as for population differences in height, weight and other measures of overall size. Comparable studies now can be undertaken in Asia because of the growing number of Han Chinese who have been born and raised at high altitude on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.
Aim: The study compares the growth of indigenous Tibetan children and children of Han descent who have been born and raised at the same high altitudes, and under similar socio-economic conditions.
Subjects and methods: Measurements of stature, sitting height, weight, triceps and subscapular skinfolds, upper arm muscle area, transverse chest diameter, anterio-posterior chest diameter, and chest circumference were taken on 1439 Tibetan and Han males and females between the ages of 6 and 29 years who were born and raised 3200 m, 3800 m or at 4300 m in the high altitude province of Qinghai in western China.
Results: Han-Tibetan differences in body size do not occur systematically for any measurement, for any age group, or for either gender; nor is there a systematic pattern of body size differences between 3200 m and 4300 m. This indicates that there are no differences in general growth between the two groups at high altitude in Qinghai, although both groups grow more slowly than urban children at low altitude in China. On the other hand, Tibetan males possess significantly deeper chests than Han males, and Tibetan females possess significantly wider chests than Han females. Tibetans of both sexes possess significantly larger chest circumferences than Han males and females.
Conclusions: Although genetic similarities cannot be ruled out, comparable dietary stress is a likely explanation for the similar and slow morphological growth of Han and Tibetans at high altitude. However, Han-Tibetan differences in thorax dimensions are likely a consequence of population (genetic) differences in the response to hypoxia during growth.
Copyright 2004 Taylor and Francis Ltd.