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Secular changes in growth and maturation in recent decades have been reviewed for various populations. The secular increase in attained height during the growth period is continuing in most countries, but has slowed down. The increase in adult stature over the past decades has varied between 0.3 and 3.0 cm/decade. The secular trend in the tempo of growth (earlier menarche and peak height velocity, and shortening of the growth cycle) has come to a halt in some populations, but is continuing or has been reversed in others. The secular trend in attained height and in the tempo of growth is usually more pronounced in children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, in those with poorly educated parents or in those from rural areas. It is concluded that updates of growth standards are required in all populations. More marked secular changes appear to occur in the lower height centiles, which may have direct implications on the future definition of ‘short stature’ in a population. □ Secular trend, adult stature, growth, menarche, tempo of growth