Childhood linear growth and weight gain are important markers of nutritional status and overall health. Growth faltering has been shown to have a long-term impact on longitudinal growth, health, education and economic performance in adulthood. Efforts to prevent short stature are likely to produce multiple positive outcomes. Optimizing growth has been identified by the World Health Organization as a major global health priority.
This lecture will focus on our clinical studies examining the impact of nutritional intake on growth and bone health in children and young adults. We showed, for the first time, that nutritional intervention can induce growth acceleration and are equally efficacious to hormonal treatments. It is safe and inexpensive as compared to hormonal treatments, which require frequent medical monitoring, monthly or even daily injections and frequent blood tests.
Our work in young adults (aged ~20 years) with diagnosed milk allergy, was also one of the first to indicate that dairy-free diet from infancy may severely affect the final height. The incidence of low stature was double the overall expected number in the general public, revealing that the participants did not achieve their full growth potential. They were on average, four centimetres shorter that their expected height according to the height of their parents. We also showed that their bone density was very low. About a third of them were diagnosed as having osteoporosis, about 60% of them had osteopenia and only 12% had a normal bone density. Primarily results show that Dietary interventions to improve dietary calcium intake may repair the reduced BMD.
We suggest that nutritional evaluation and support be an integral part of care in both healthy and at-risk children during rapid periods of growth and development.