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Kids don't measure friendship in inches

September 13, 2004|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

Children who are short are no less likely to be popular or have friends than their taller peers, researchers have found, suggesting that some parental fears may be unfounded.

A study of children in grades six through 12 in a public school in western New York found that kids were as likely to choose shorter-than-average students as their friends or to cast them in good roles for a class play.

The research is believed to be the first to assess shorter students' social adjustment and their peers' views of them. About 40,000 parents each year give their children growth hormone to stimulate their growth, some of them because they fear their children will suffer socially.

"We found that virtually all the stereotypes regarding the liabilities of being short in stature were found not to be true," said David E. Sandberg, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. The shorter children were equally likely to be friends with taller children and vice versa, rather than sticking with those of similar height. The one issue that did surface was the view that the shorter students were perceived to look younger than their peers -- an effect that started wearing off in the upper grades.

The study, published in the Sept. 3 issue of Pediatrics, included 956 students who were asked to rate their peers based on whom they like best. They were told simply that they were participating in a "friendship study," and were not told that height played any role. The children also were asked to give their peers various roles they would be best suited for in a class play, including descriptions like class clown, or a good leader, or has many friends, or has good ideas or gets into fights, or would rather be alone than with others, or is very shy and doesn't join in.

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