Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Poor growth in school entrants as an index of organic disease: the Wessex growth study.

British Medical Journal 1992; 305 doi: (Published 05 December 1992) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1992;305:1400
  1. L. D. Voss,
  2. J. Mulligan,
  3. P. R. Betts,
  4. T. J. Wilkin
  1. Southampton General Hospital.


    OBJECTIVE--To establish whether poor height or height velocity, assessed during the year of school entry, might identify children with previously undiagnosed organic disease. DESIGN--Observation of a total population and their case controls. SETTING--Community base. SUBJECTS--All 14,346 children in two health districts entering school during two consecutive years were screened for height by school nurses, and those whose height lay below the 3rd centile according to Tanner and Whitehouse standards (n = 180) were identified. After excluding 32 with known organic disease, five from ethnic minorities, and three who refused to take part, the remaining 140 short normal children were matched with 140 age and sex matched controls of average height (10th-90th centile) and their height velocities over 12 months measured. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Height, height velocity, previously diagnosed organic disease, and organic disease diagnosed as a result of blood tests and specialist examination. RESULTS--Twenty five of the 180 short children (14%) were already known to have chronic organic disease which could explain their poor growth. Blood tests and specialist examination revealed a further seven with organic disease, which was acquired rather than congenital in three, and a second cause of short stature in one with known organic disease. These eight conditions had been missed at the school entry medical examination. The shorter the child, the more likely an underlying organic disorder, with seven of the 12 children whose heights were more than 3 standard deviations below the mean having some organic disease. Height velocity measured over 12 months, however, did not distinguish short normal children from those with disease or from their matched controls. CONCLUSIONS--Height, but not height velocity, is a useful index for identifying unrecognised organic disease at school entry. The shorter the stature the greater the prevalence of organic disease. The frequency of newly diagnosed remediable disease in this study (1 in 3-4000) is similar to that of neonatal hypothyroidism, which is routinely screened for. Routine investigation of all very short school entrants is recommended.