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Malia Obama almost as tall as parents: What triggers growth spurt?

December 02, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • At 13, Malia Obama is almost as tall as her parents, thanks to a growth spurt.
At 13, Malia Obama is almost as tall as her parents, thanks to a growth spurt. (Getty Images )

Kids grow up so fast, but some seem to spring up overnight. Witness the trajectory of Malia Obama, the older daughter of President and Mrs. Obama, who at the age of 13 stands almost as tall as her mother. Estimates put her at 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10, not that unusual for a child with tall parents, but definitely taller than most children her age.

No doubt she experienced a growth spurt, a natural occurrence that happens in puberty. This is the time when the body grows the fastest, says Dr. Jamie Wood, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, following a fairly steady growth rate in childhood.

For girls, Wood adds, this growing stage happens about two years after girls start developing breasts (average age 10) and about two years after boys have an increase in the size of their testicles (average age 12).

There's some variation in those ages, of course, Wood said, but that rapid growth period is tied to a rise in estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. "They work synergistically with growth hormones to cause elongation in the long bones of the body," causing the spurt.

After a two-year period of faster growth, things start to slow down. In that period teens can grow, she added, up to three and a half to four inches a year.

That could trigger growing pains -- yes, they actually exist, Wood says. "It's kind of a dull ache, and you might notice kids rubbing the tops of their thighs down to their knees or their shins. They tend to complain about it at night," when growth hormones are mainly secreted. A heating pad can be helpful.

Growth spurts may cause kids to eat more -- a lot more. Not to worry, Wood said, as long as they're eating quality foods and not junk. But some kids can gain weight if they don't adjust their calories when their bodies stop growing.

Though Malia may be taller than most of her male classmates, things will even out soon. "It can be awkward in middle school years," Wood said, "but the boys will catch up."

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