The height of a child’s biological parents can be a good indicator of how tall a child will be, as genetics play a prominent role in determining height. However, this can vary, and siblings with the same parents may all reach different heights. Other factors, such as biological sex, overall health, nutrition, sleep, and exercise, during developmental years all factor into height and growth.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
The height a person reaches by adulthood can depend on the genes they inherit from their biological parents, although some factors may mean a child does not reach their full potential height.
Nutrition and overall health during childhood and adolescence also affect human growth and height. Over hundreds of years, the average human height has increased due to improved nourishment in children and a reduction in illness and infections.
This article explores methods people may use to predict height, factors that affect growth in children and adolescents, and when to speak with a doctor if growth becomes a concern.
A combination of genetics and external factors can affect how tall a child will grow.
Siblings with the same parents can vary in height, and one child in the family may be taller or shorter compared to the rest of the family.
Other factors, such as nutrition, illness, or premature birth, can also play a part in height and growth and may prevent a child from reaching their full potential height.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, people may wish to try the following formula for predicting how tall a child will be:
- Measure the height of both biological parents.
- For male children, add 5 inches (in) to the father’s height, add the mother’s height, then divide by 2.
- For female children, subtract 5 in from the father’s height, add the mother’s height, then divide by 2.
However, note that predictive methods such as these are not concrete, and a child’s adult height could change depending on different factors.
According to the Society for Endocrinology, people can usually expect the following average growth patterns in children and adolescents:
- The fastest rate of growth occurs before birth, when a fetus will grow to a length of around 50 centimeters (cm) over a period of 9 months.
- During childhood, both male and female children grow at similar rates — around 5.5 cm each year — up to the age of about 8 years.
- During puberty, another growth spurt occurs, called the pubertal growth spurt. At this stage, male growth increases more than female growth — on average, adult males are 14 cm taller than adult females.
Most females will have a growth spurt in the year before they start their first menstrual period. Their feet and hands will likely increase in size first, followed by the rest of the body.
Female growth slows down after their first menstrual period, but females will usually still grow 1–2 in after this time.
According to health experts, males usually have a growth spurt in puberty 2 years after most females. The peak time of growth is before sperm develops, and males will grow about 9 cm a year. Males also usually have longer growth spurts than females.
According to the Society for Endocrinology, there is no set age for when males and females will stop growing. Once a person has gone through all the stages of puberty to reach adult development, their growth will slow down and stop.
Additionally, growth plates in the bones fuse together at this stage, meaning individuals will not grow any taller.
Adolescents go through puberty at different stages, so variations in growth spurts can be normal. In some cases, going through puberty at a slower rate can be due to an inherited pattern, known as constitutional delay.
If there is too much variation, such as a growth spurt not occurring or females not menstruating by the age of 16 years, then it is important to speak with a doctor for a checkup.
In some cases, unusual growth or development in a young person may be the result of an underlying medical condition, such as:
- thyroid hormone or growth hormone deficiency
- an issue with the skeleton, which prevents proper growth
- an illness affecting growth, such as a severe chest or gut condition
Treating the underlying condition may help improve growth. In the case of a growth hormone deficiency, people may need treatment with artificial growth hormone.
Although genetics largely determine a person’s height, proper nutrition is an important factor in healthy growth and development for children and adolescents.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a balanced and nutritious diet for healthy growth and development includes:
- Whole grain foods: Comprising carbohydrates, B vitamins, fiber, and energy.
- Fruits and vegetables: Provide a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
- Low fat dairy: Provide protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium.
- Nondairy options: Can include fortified soy milk and yogurt and calcium-set tofu.
- Other foods: Foods encouraging healthy growth by providing protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins include:
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Sometimes, children or adolescents may face peer pressure or bullying for being a different height than those around them. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, or depression.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides the following advice for parents and caregivers to help young people deal with peer pressure:
- Encourage honest and open communication.
- Stay open and nonjudgmental to a young person, so they feel they can freely talk if they feel uncomfortable or upset about any situation.
- Learn how young people interact with others online and communicate about how to safely and positively use the internet and social media.
- Help a young person develop assertiveness and self-confidence, as feeling good about themselves will help them feel more confident and less vulnerable to peer pressure.
- Talk through plans with a young person for getting out of any situation where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. For example, parents and caregivers can let their child or teenager know they will always come and get them if they feel unsafe.
- Get to know a child or teenager’s friends, and talk with their parents and caregivers about any concerns that may arise.
- If peer pressure becomes an ongoing problem, discuss any issues with the school or a healthcare professional.
- If a young person’s mental health becomes negatively affected, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.
How tall a child or teenager will grow largely depends on the genes they inherit from their biological parents.
Good nutrition, exercise, and sleep also all play an important role in healthy growth and development. Illness, infection, or premature birth may all affect whether a child reaches their potential full height or not.
In most cases, young people will not be able to have much impact on their height other than living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In some cases, children or adolescents may have a deficiency in growth hormone, which may require medical treatment to resolve.
If a child or adolescent is not growing or developing as expected for their age and biological sex, misses a growth spurt, or females do not have their first period by 16 years, then individuals can consult with their doctor for a checkup.