Objective: To compare the growth charts of obese subjects (4-18 years) with the Tanner's growth curves and to analyze the growth velocities and bone age of obese children in prepuberty and adolescence. Moreover to compare the relationship between the serum insulinemic and glycemic levels and height standard deviation score (HSDS).
Design: Growth charts: this study included 1250 obese subjects (669 males, 581 females) observed between 1981 and 1993 and divided into seven age categories (4-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18 years). Growth velocities: yearly growth velocities of 579 obese subjects (325 males, 254 females) were compared to growth velocities of 473 controlled children of the same sex, chronological age and pubertal stage. Bone age (BA) of 846 obese subjects (470 males, 376 females) was estimated. Blood analysis: insulin secretion of 70 obese children was considered and compared to 70 lean controls of equal chronological age and sex.
Measurements: Growth rate, standardized height and other physical characteristics of the children were measured by trained examiners. All subjects were evaluated singularly for at least 4 years with a follow-up every 6 months. BA was estimated by radiograph of the left hand and wrist using the Tanner-Whitehouse II system by a single observer. For the insulin secretion study and glycemic levels oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was performed using a glucose load of 1.75 g/kg per body weight. Plasma insulin was assessed by a double antibody radioimmunoassay.
Results: In adipose children the growth charts, referred to 97th centile, 50th centile and 3rd centile, were superior to those of the normal population up to the age of 13 and 12.5 years for male and for female respectively; growth decreases at the above age in both sexes. The obese subjects were equal in height to the non obese subjects as they reached their 18th birthday. The growth velocity (cm/yr) of the obese child, in the age range considered here, does not show differences when compared with the lean child in the prepubertal status (P not significant) but decreases during Tanner's stage II, III IV in boys and girls (P < 0.0001). BA is more advanced over chronological age (delta BA-CA) in both sexes. The increase of BA over CA does not show a remarkable difference during pubertal maturation in boys (P not significant); whereas in girls the delta BA-CA decreases with advancing sexual maturation (P < 0.0001). Our obese subjects have significantly higher plasma insulinemic levels compared with the lean controls (P < 0.0001). Moreover there is a positive correlation between plasma insulinemic levels and HSDS (r = 0.881, P < 0.0001). We did not observe a correlation between serum glycemic levels and HSDS.
Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that the growth increase in an obese child starts in the first years of life. The statural advantage acquired in the first years of life would be exploited and maintained up to the beginning of puberty and with a growth velocity equal to that of the lean subject. Skeletal maturation is strongly increased in both sexes. Bone age remained advanced during the entire period of pubertal development. During puberty obese subjects demonstrate a less notable growth spurt when compared with lean subjects. The growth advantage gradually decreases and final adult height of obese and normal subjects is equal.