In 1997 the World Health Organisation undertook a comprehensive review of child growth references. It stated: ‘We now have scientific evidence proving that infants and children from geographically diverse regions of the world experience very similar growth patterns when their health and nutrition needs are met. This provides us with a crucially important and scientifically robust tool to assess compliance with a child’s “right to grow.”’
Okay, no arguing with that. The review, named the Multicentre Growth Reference Study, was purposefully designed to produce a standard by selecting healthy children living under conditions likely to favour the achievement of their “full genetic growth potential”. Hmmm, full growth potential. Although one might easily find such words equally convincing, the influence of current growth doctrines already manifests itself in such terminology. It overlooks the notion that reaching full potential, in some cases, may not be the best option. Is inflating a balloon to its full potential always smart? Perhaps not if you want the balloon to have a longer life. Like balloons perhaps it would be better if people always retain some of their potential, a little slack to deal with unexpected circumstances. Although height is the result of good circumstances for growing tall, like plants in a greenhouse, being tall itself is not healthy. In fact every centimeter of height takes about 6 months of your average life expectancy. At the moment the WHO does no relate the historically high intake of proteins and sugars to an unnecessary increase in height, only to obesity. And although the obesity epidemic is a serious concern and it is good that the WHO addresses this, it is worrying that our increasing height, with all its consequences for our health, needs and footprint, is not considered with equal attention. On the contrary, it’s celebrated.