Objectives: To assess the effect of urban deprivation on childhood growth in a modern British society by analysing data from a regional growth survey, the Tayside growth study.
Setting: The Tayside Region in Scotland, which has three districts with distinct socioeconomic status: Dundee (D, urban city), Angus (A, rural), and Perth (P, rural and county town).
Subjects and methods: Height and weight of 23,046 children (> 90% of the regional childhood population) were measured as part of a child health surveillance programme, by community health care workers at 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 14 years. Height standard deviation score (calculated against Tanner) and body mass index (BMI-weight (kg)/height (m)2) were calculated for each child by a central computer program; mean height standard deviation score and BMI standard deviation score were calculated for each measuring centre (school, health clinic). A deprivation score for each centre was calculated from the prevalence of single parent families; families with more than three children; unemployment rate; the number of social class V individuals; the percentage of council houses.
Results: Mean height standard deviation score for Tayside was 0.11. An intraregional difference was demonstrated: mean height standard deviation score (SD) D = 0.04 (1.0); A = 0.14 (1.1); P = 0.21 (1.1); P < 0.002. There was a positive association between short stature and increasing social deprivation seen throughout Tayside (P < 0.05), with a strong association in Dundee primary school children (r = 0.6; P < 0.001). Analysis by district showed that the association was significant only above the age of 8 (P < 0.004). There was no relation between BMI and social deprivation.
Conclusions: In an industrialised developed society, urban deprivation appears to influence height mostly in late childhood, and this association should be taken into consideration in the clinical management of short stature. Height seems to be a better physical indicator of urban deprivation, and hence an index of childhood health, than BMI.