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Height is the joint product of genetic and environmental influences, and is an important marker of nutritional status and health in early life. While height steadily increased throughout the 20th century as living standards improved, socio-economic inequalities in height persisted in many populations (whereby individuals from more socio-economically deprived backgrounds were, on average, shorter). It has been postulated that 20% of the variation in height observed within contemporary populations is explained by environmental exposures, such as maternal smoking in pregnancy, overcrowding, childhood illness and diet.1 These environmental influences are thought to contribute to socio-economic inequalities in height. Research from a contemporary cohort (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and their Children) indicated that height inequalities in middle childhood had already been established at birth and that prenatal, genetic or epigenetic factors were the most important drivers.2
In high-income countries, there is evidence to suggest that socio-economic gradients in height have been diminishing. One study comparing the 1958 British birth cohort (a predominantly white population) and their offspring showed that childhood height increased by 1 cm between the two generations and that the degree of socio-economic inequality narrowed due to a greater height gain among offspring from more disadvantaged backgrounds.3 Comparisons of childhood height between the more recent UK cohorts (the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study) also found weakening inequalities in height.4
Hancock et al5 demonstrate …
Funding The Population, Policy and Practice Programme was formed in 2014, incorporating the activities of the Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CPEB). The CPEB was supported in part by the Medical Research Council in its capacity as the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health (award G0400546). Research at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children receives a proportion of the funding from the Department of Health's National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centres funding scheme. AP is funded by a UK Medical Research Council Population Health Scientist fellowship (MR/J012351/1).
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.