P&S Journal: Winter 1997, Vol.17, No.1
Childhood Anxiety, Adult Height Linked
G irls who suffer from anxiety disorders in childhood are more likely to be one to two inches shorter than non-anxious girls as adults, according to a study by Dr. Daniel S. Pine, assistant professor of psychiatry at P&S and the New York State Psychiatric Institute; Dr. Patricia Cohen, associate professor of clinical epidemiology in the School of Public Health and the New York State Psychiatric Institute; and Dr. Judith Brook of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The study was published in Pediatrics.
The researchers were prompted to study anxiety and height by previous work, including studies by Drs. Jack Gorman, Donald Klein, and Jeremy Coplan of P&S and NYSPI. Studies by these and other researchers have consistently found that adults with emotional disorders have abnormalities in their secretion of growth hormone. "We wondered whether growth hormone was similarly affected in childhood anxiety disorders and whether that would affect an individual's height as an adult," says Dr. Pine, a child psychiatrist.
The researchers examined the relationship between anxiety disorders and stature in early adulthood in more than 700 children (half girls, half boys) for nine years. They found an association between childhood anxiety disorders and short adult stature, but only in girls. This may be because anxiety lasts longer in girls or because girls respond to stress differently, says Dr. Pine.
"In any case, the study shows that something biologically meaningful might be going on in children with anxiety disorders," he says. "Whatever it could be, it would be enough to affect a physical trait in an observable manner."
The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.