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`HOW & WHY’ - WILL I EVER GET TALLER?

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If you ask that question when you look at yourself in the mirror, you're not alone.

Lots of kids wonder when they will start to grow tall.It's not an easy question to answer because every child grows a little differently. But doctors have developed some average measurements that can give you and your parents an idea of what to expect.

When you were developing inside your mother's body, you grew quickly. After you were born, you kept on growing fast. Most babies triple their birth weight and add seven to 10 inches to their height during the first year of life. Between age 1 and age 2, an average child adds another five inches. After that, growth slows down. Kids add about two and a half inches each year until they reach the time called their "growth spurt."

A growth spurt is just what it sounds like: a sudden burst of fast development that adds several inches to a child's height. Girls start their growth spurt around age 11. Boys have to wait an extra year or two. They usually start the spurt around age 13. For boys and girls, the growth spurt usually lasts about two years. During that time, girls add two and a half to four inches per year to their height. Boys add three to five inches per year. Remember, these numbers are averages. Some kids grow more than that; others grow less.

Human growth is controlled by substances called hormones. Your body makes the hormones. They act as chemical messengers that tell cells it's time to grow and change.

Two hormones seem to be in charge during childhood. One is called "somatotropin" or growth hormone. This hormone turns on the growth of the skeleton and helps build muscles. Another hormone called "thyroxine" helps the growth hormone do its job well. When you reach the age at which your growth spurt kicks in, your body starts producing even more hormones.

Usually, tall parents have children who eventually grow to be tall. Children of small parents generally grow up that way, too. But it doesn't always turn out that way as you can probably see by looking around at families you know. Some tall parents have short kids, and some short parents have kids who tower over them.

When you compare yourself to the growth charts in your doctor's office, it's important to remember that everyone grows at his or her own pace. You may grow faster or slower than the "average" person. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. By the time you're around age 16 if you're a girl, or age 18 if you're a boy, you'll reach your full height - although you may not be as big as a professional basketball player or as small as an Olympic gymnast.

Several things can get in the way of normal growth. All over the world, the most common cause of growth failure is poor nutrition. Kids who do not get enough to eat, or who eat poor diets, do not grow normally. Certain diseases can interfere with growth, too. Some kids' bodies do not make enough growth hormone. Since 1985, these children have had help. They can be treated with a synthetic, or man-made, growth hormone.

(BU) TIPS FOR PARENTS:

The Human Growth Foundation has developed a checklist to help parents monitor their children's growth.

- Is my child the shortest or tallest in his class?

- Is my child unable to keep up with other children the same age in physical activity?

- Has my child between the ages of 2 and 14 grown less than two inches or more than three inches in the last year?

- Is my child showing signs of early sexual development (before age 7 in girls and before age 9 in boys)?

- Has my 13-year-old girl or my 15-year-old boy failed to show any signs of sexual development?

- Is an older sister shorter than a younger sister, or is an older brother shorter than a younger brother?

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, it does not necessarily mean that there's a problem. But you should bring your concern to your doctor's attention early. Growth problems are most effectively treated before puberty. For more information, or to receive a chart for keeping track of your child's growth, contact the Human Growth Foundation, P.O. Box 3090, Falls Church, Va. 22043; telephone (800) 451-6434.

-Do you wonder about your body, your feelings, or how things work in the world around you? Send your questions to Catherine O'Neill, HOW & WHY, Universal Press Syndicate, 4900 Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64112.