Poor kids not only receive the short end at the dinner table, they are also at greater risk of being shorter than their richer peers, new research indicates.

One of the Universite de Montreal study’s authors said stunted growth is often an indicator of low economic status and an industrialized nation like Canada should be doing more for its children.

“This is an investment in the future,” said Louise Seguin, a professor at the Universite de Montreal’s department of social and preventative medicine.

“Those children are not only the children of their parents, they’re children for the future of the whole society.”

Researchers asked 1,929 Quebec mothers — when their kids reached the age of two-and-half and four-years-old — for their child’s height and economic situation.

Mothers revealed whether financial constraints had ever forced them to cut back on providing basic needs for their child, including food, housing, heating, clothing, medication and transportation.

The study discovered that poorer children didn’t measure up — literally — to their wealthier comrades, regardless of the mother’s own height or education level.

“What we show is (that) if there is long-term poverty — for two years or more — there’s a clear risk of growth retardation,” said Seguin, whose research was published in the January edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

She said poverty often creates health hazards such as malnutrition, developmental problems and stress.

“Chronic stress has an impact directly on the whole metabolism of the body, and the possibility of the body to grow,” she said.

“So, it’s a mix of many different elements that come with poverty . . . that can affect the child’s growth.”

Seguin also said that being short can establish psychological hurdles.

“It has been shown that people who are short can be discriminated against,” she said. “We observe that they have less social mobility.”

American researchers have examined the relationship between height and the economic situation of children before, but this is the first study to look at more than just the basic family income numbers, she said.

Seguin also said this was the first time the link was measured in Canada, which has more social programs aimed at improving the health of children than in the United States.

But she said benefits, such as universal health care and Quebec’s subsidized daycares, are not always enough.

“We believe that even though Quebec is doing more for their families with young children than other provinces are, there’s still much that can be done to make sure that every child has an equal opportunity to grow and to develop the best they can,” Seguin said.

Growing up poor
Campaign 2000, an anti-poverty coalition, released a report card in November that suggests at least 760,000 Canadian kids – about one in nine – are growing up poor.

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