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Int J Epidemiol. 2002 Apr;31(2):383-90.

Leg and trunk length at 43 years in relation to childhood health, diet and family circumstances; evidence from the 1946 national birth cohort.

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  • 1MRC National Survey of Health & Development, Royal Free & University College Medical School, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, London WC1E 6BT, UK.



This is a study of the associations of adult leg and trunk length with early life height and weight, diet, socioeconomic circumstances, and health, and parental height, divorce and death.


The data used were collected in a longitudinal study of the health, development and ageing of a British national birth cohort (N = 2879 in this analysis) studied since birth in 1946. Multiple regression models were used to investigate the relationships.


Adult leg and trunk length were each positively associated with parental height, birthweight, and weight at 4 years. Leg length was associated positively with breastfeeding and energy intake at 4 years. Trunk length was associated negatively with serious illness in childhood and possibly also parental divorce, but not with the dietary data.


Adult leg length is particularly sensitive to environmental factors and diet in early childhood because that is the period of most rapid leg growth. Trunk growth is faster than leg growth after infancy and before puberty, and may be associated with the effects of serious illness and parental separation because of the child's growing sensitivity to stressful circumstances, as well as the result of the biological effects of illness.

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