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Econ Hum Biol. 2011 Mar;9(2):194-202. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2010.11.002. Epub 2010 Nov 29.

Childhood circumstances and height among older adults in the United States.

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Center for Community Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, USA.


We investigated the association between adult height and three indicators of childhood circumstances: mother's education, childhood financial hardship, and childhood health in the United States. Cross-sectional analysis of adults aged 50 and older in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study (N = 14,079) was conducted. Gender and gender-race stratified regression models were used to model the association between adult height and childhood circumstances. The gender-stratified results showed a positive gradient association between mother's education and adult height; those reporting up to grade 8, high school graduate, and greater than high school education for their mother were 4.17 cm (p < 0.001), 4.92 cm (p < 0.001), and 5.83 cm (p < 0.001) taller for men and 2.57 cm (p < 0.001), 3.16 cm (p < 0.001), and 3.85 cm (p < 0.001) taller for women, respectively than those reporting no education for their mother. Childhood health was not statistically significantly associated with adult height, controlling for birth cohort, mother's education, and childhood financial hardship. Those who did not experience childhood financial hardship were slightly taller than those who did experience such hardship. Gender-race stratified results also showed a positive gradient association between mother's education and adult height; however, this association was only significant for white men and white women. The study reiterates the importance of childhood circumstances for adult height and for building health stock.

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