Early Bone Maturity Sets a New Normal for Child Growth

    By Kathleen Berger

    A ‘new norm’ for child growth is provided from a study published by researchers at the University of Missouri.

    The study shows boys and girls are actually growing earlier, reaching their full height sooner than children two generations ago. This could have major implications on the current understanding of skeletal maturity progression and timing in children.

    Dana Duren, PhD, Director of Orthopedic Research and the Skeletal Morphology Laboratory at the University of Misosuri School of Medicine, has been examining a growth process called epiphyseal fusion (EF) and skeletal maturity.

    EF is a primary trait used in pediatric orthopedics when assessing skeletal maturity of a child.  Fusion marks the completion of longitudinal bone growth, which is a clinical milestone. Those standards are based on populations of children born 60 to 80 years ago.

    Duren and her team’s study involved a large-scale sampling of 1,000 children from birth years of 1915 to 2006 in order to get a sense of the “new normal” for EF in the bones of the hand and wrist.  The study paid special attention to the timing of the fusion.

    “A long bone grows, it grows at either end, at a growth plate. And there is the main part of the bone and then there’s also a little epiphysis. And when the epiphysis starts to become part of the bone with the obliteration of the growth plate, then that is the process of fusion,” said Duren.

    Duren explained when fusion is completed, so is the growth of that bone. Duren’s team discovered fusion is now happening faster than it had in children from the 1920s. In today’s children, she said bones stopped growing six to ten months earlier.

    The findings set a new normal for how fast children grow and when they can expect to reach their full height. Duren said it does not mean children today are shorter.

    The findings could be used for the development of treatment plans for children with skeletal growth and development disorders.

    University of Missouri researchers say they did not find a connection between kids maturing faster and any negative health effects.

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