American Journal of Human Biology
Secular changes in stature and body mass index for Chinese youth in sixteen major cities, 1950s-2005
Cheng-Ye Ji et al.
Evidence shows a secular trend in physical growth in China in recent years. We analyze the secular trend of stature and body mass index (BMI) for the period 1950s-2005 to provide biological evidence for policy-makers to identify measures for improving Chinese children's health. Data come from the historical records in 1950s and the successive cycles of the Chinese National Survey on Student's Constitution and Health. Subjects were 7- to 18-year-old youth from 16 cities. Sex-age differences in mean stature and BMI values between the surveys were analyzed, and the increments per decade were compared. An overall positive secular trend was found in 1950s-2005. Mean stature of the 18-year olds increased from 166.6 to 173.4 cm for males and from 155.8 to 161.2 cm for females, yielding rates of 1.3 and 1.1 cm/decade; the overall increments of BMI values were 2.6 for males and 1.8 for females, yielding rates of 0.8 and 0.6/decade, respectively. The most significant changes occurred during puberty. The overall positive secular trend is closely associated with the socioeconomic progress and the improvement of livelihood. Strong evidence suggests that in China this trend will be continued for many years. Further studies are needed to explore how to ensure healthy changes for poorer rural youth. Effective preventive strategies and measures should be taken to prevent the progressive increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity accompanying this trend.