The imbalance may reflect society's gender biases about stature, and may have serious health consequences: girls whose growth failure is caused by an underlying disease may be overlooked, or experience unnecessary delays in receiving a proper diagnosis. The results may also suggest that short but healthy boys are more likely to be subjected to unnecessary medical evaluations.
"Growth failure is a very sensitive indicator of a child's overall health, and should be evaluated with equal care for both boys and girls," said Adda Grimberg, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatric endocrinologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who led the research. "Instead, these referral patterns may result from social pressures implying that short stature is a more significant problem in boys than girls."
The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
The researchers reviewed the charts of all 278 children referred to the Diagnostic and Research Growth Center at Children's Hospital in 2001 for new evaluations of short stature or poor growth. Because the definitions of short stature use percentage cutoffs, rather than actual heights, roughly equal numbers of boys and girls would be expected among the referrals. Instead, the research team found that boys outnumbered girls by 182 to 96, nearly a two-to-one margin. The gender discrepancies were more pronounced starting at age 9.
Although girls were less likely to be referred than boys, the girls' height deficits were greater than those for the boys in the study. In other words, although all the children in the study were short, the girls were significantly shorter than the boys when compared to both the general population and to predictions based on their parents' heights.