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Keywords:

  • adolescent;
  • body height;
  • educational measurement;
  • learning disorder

Aim:  To determine if short stature at 14 or 21 years and patterns of ‘catch-up’ growth from 5 to 14 or 21 years are related to academic achievement in adolescents.

Methods:  The Mater University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy is a longitudinal study of 7223 singleton infants born between 1981 and 1984. Data were available for cross-sectional analyses of 3785 adolescents of whom 2149 were seen as young adults. Longitudinal patterns of growth were examined for 2936 subjects from 5 to 14 years and 1753 subjects from 5 to 21 years.

Results:  Adolescents or young adults with height <10th centile had a lower mean Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) score in adolescence and at 21 years than those of normal height (2.7 and 3.0 points, respectively) and increased odds of a WRAT score <85 (1.57 and 1.87, respectively) and learning difficulties (1.61 and 1.78, respectively). For growth patterns from 5 to 14 years, adolescents short at 5 years, irrespective of height at 14 years, had a lower mean WRAT score and increased odds of WRAT score <85 and learning difficulties. However, for growth patterns from 5 to 21 years, only the group short at both ages had increased learning difficulties.

Conclusions:  Youth short at 14 years or at 21 years and those persistently short have an increased prevalence of academic difficulties. Catch-up growth by 21, although not 14 years, was associated with improved outcomes.