Growth and Life Course Health Development

This is one of 26 chapters published in the Handbook of Life Course Health Development.


Abstract: Physical growth is an emergent process integrating a complex network of social, biological, and environmental interactions. The global diversity of body shapes and sizes reflects developmental plasticity in response to environmental exposures, both advantageous and adverse, and depicts an evolutionarily robust strategy for species’ survival. Epidemiologic surveillance efforts demonstrate that early life skeletal growth and body composition trajectories are associated with and predict adult chronic disease risks. Both human and animal studies have provided an evidentiary base for the physiological mechanisms by which differences in growth processes manifest as cell- and organ-level changes that influence disease susceptibility across the life course. This chapter leverages a systems biology approach to describe macro- and micropathways affecting growth from a global perspective, reflecting on auxology’s place in theoretical frameworks that help us to understanding past, present, and future health trends. Methodological challenges that face the field are considered, and recommendations to guide future research and policy efforts are offered with the aim of advancing the science of growth biology and its contributions to life course health development.



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