Patterns of linear growth and skeletal maturation from birth to 18 years of age in overweight young adults

Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Apr;36(4):535-41. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.238. Epub 2011 Nov 29.


Objective: To estimate differences in skeletal maturity and stature from birth to age 18 years between individuals who are overweight vs normal weight in young adulthood.

Patients and methods: Weight, length and height, and relative skeletal age (skeletal-chronological age) were assessed annually from birth to age 18 years in 521 subjects (255 women) in the Fels Longitudinal Study who were overweight or obese (body mass index (BMI) >25 kg m(-2), n=131) or normal weight (n=390) in young adulthood (18-30 years). Generalized estimating equations were used to test for skeletal maturity and stature differences by young adult BMI status.

Results: Differences in height increased during puberty, being significant for girls at ages 10 to 12 years, and for boys at ages 11 to 13 years (P-values<0.001), with overweight or obese adults being ∼3 cm taller at those ages than normal weight adults. These differences then diminished so that by age 18 years, overweight or obese adults were not significantly different in stature to their normal weight peers. Differences in skeletal maturity were similar, but more pervasive; overweight or obese adults were more skeletally advanced throughout childhood. Skeletal maturity differences peaked at chronological age 12 in boys and 14 in girls (P-values<0.001), with overweight or obese adults being ∼1 year more advanced than normal weight adults.

Conclusions: This descriptive study is the first to track advanced skeletal maturity and linear growth acceleration throughout infancy, childhood and adolescence in individuals who become overweight, showing that differences occur primarily around the time of the pubertal growth spurt. Increased BMI in children on a path to becoming overweight adults precedes an advancement in skeletal development and subsequently tall stature during puberty. Further work is required to assess the predictive value of accelerated pubertal height growth for assessing obesity risk in a variety of populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Adult
  • Body Height*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Bone Development*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Puberty
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult