Background: Human growth is traditionally envisaged as a target-seeking process regulated by genes, nutrition, health, and the state of an individual's social and economic environment; it is believed that under optimal physical conditions, an individual will achieve his or her full genetic potential.
Methods: Using a panel data set on individual height increments, we suggest a statistical modeling approach that characterizes growth as first-order trend stationary and allows for controlling individual growth tempo via observable measures of individual maturity. A Bayesian framework and corresponding Markov-chain Monte Carlo techniques allowing for a conceptually stringent treatment of missing values are adapted for parameter estimation.
Results: The model provides evidence for the adjustment of the individual growth rate toward average height of the population.
Conclusion: The increase in adult body height during the past 150 y has been explained by the steady improvement of living conditions that are now being considered to have reached an optimum in Western societies. The current investigation questions the notion that the traditional concept in the understanding of this target-seeking process is sufficient. We consider an additional regulator that possibly points at community-based target seeking in growth.