Scientist Analyzed the Effects of Stress on Children’s Bone Growth. This Is What He Learned.

Mental health is a vital aspect of life, and taking care of it should start at a young age. Parents should be aware that a child’s experience can affect their growth — mentally and physically. Nurturing them shouldn’t stop with providing them with the body’s basic needs, such as food and water. Taking care of their minds and helping them cope in stressful situations should be essential to parenting.

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Signs that stress has affected the person don’t just show up at a later age. Chronic stress is a huge factor in why bone development stops in children. This information is based on a study and observation of Professor Barry Bogin. He is an expert in Biological Anthropology in the School of Sport, Exercise, and Health Sciences. The professor shared the data from his study in a podcast called Cuppa with a Scientist — which is hosted by Meg Cox.

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“If you live with intense levels of fear or stress, it gets internalized and turned into stress hormones,” Professor Bogin explained. “If you have high levels of stress hormones every day, these stress hormones actually stop bones from growing. Chronic stress inhibits the production of the two most powerful hormones that promote bone growth. These are growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1. A lack of these hormones can stop growth in height.”

He accumulated data while observing children from Maya communities in Guatemala. Based on his analysis, Maya children began growing taller again after migrating to prosperous cities. Professor Bogin also explained the root cause of why he studies Maya communities. He replied, “Guatemala is the one country in the Americas that has the most stunted children – 47% of all under five-year-olds are of very short stature, and that is a sign that living conditions are bad for them.”

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Also, according to Bogin, even the wealthiest families are undersized — making it clear that food shortage wasn’t the stress factor for the community. “Everybody lives in fear. I think it’s the 12th highest murder rate in all the world for murders per 100,000 people, and it’s the third highest murder rate for women across all categories,” he shared. “Only one out of every hundred murders ever goes to court, which means murderers are getting away with it…rich people are sending their kids to school in bulletproof automobiles with armed guards.”

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Fear for their lives is why Maya communities are surrounded by stress. The fear of being in a perilous environment is reflected in their physical health, especially bone development. In the 90s, Professor Bogin visited a Florida school, as well as 200 children in Guatemala who were from Maya communities. He measured the children, and those from Florida were three inches taller than the kids in Guatemala.

The data was also similar when he and James Loucky measured children in Los Angeles and Florida in 2000. The kids were born in Guatemala and later moved to the U.S., and they grew five times faster during their stay in the United States. “We almost did a minute-by-minute analysis, and we found the longer the children were in the United States, the taller they were. It was the biggest increase in height ever measured in that short period of time in one generation.”

Professor Bogin has published papers with the titles “As tall as my peers – similarity in body height between migrants and hosts” and “Fear, violence, inequality, and stunting in Guatemala.” Both papers thoroughly explain and conclude their findings regarding bone growth and stress. Also, to learn more, you can watch the full podcast interview of Professor Bogin in Cuppa with a Scientist by clicking the video below.

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