More than 1200 St Helenian schoolchildren were studied in 1973 and 1978 to determine how social factors affected growth. The association of short stature with large family size was confirmed and shown to be concentrated in the earlier members of the sibship. This was independent of birth interval. Association between birth interval and stature was most pronounced for the spacing following the index child, less for the preceding interval, and least for the family average interval. These results are similar to those of British children, for whom St Helenians form a reasonable model. It is argued that these results are not readily explained by genetic factors nor are they explained by differences of birthweight, but they are compatible with deprivation of parental care and love, for which older children have to compete with other sibings. Deprivation sufficient to retard growth is not confined to extreme circumstances or to broad social groups, but occurs selectively within the heart of the normal family.
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