The process of growth and maturation of people is related to the genes inherited from the mother, father, and our grandparents, and manifests itself in the best way if food and sanitary conditions, among other variables, are adequate, said María Elena Sáenz Faulhaber, from the Institute of Anthropological Research (IIA) of the UNAM. In this sense, she explained: "Only to the extent that the country can have a better economic development and the environment of children and young people is correct, we will have a healthier population".
We know that in rural populations where health systems are deficient, we find smaller statures and biological maturation in both sexes. "If the height is greater than that of the parents, it means that the environment where the child grew up was appropriate", although she clarified that this rule is not infallible because the chronological and bone ages do not always coincide; thus, especially in adolescence, it is common for a 12 or 13-year-old boy or girl to still have a child's body and behavior and his or her height is shorter; in others, there is a coincidence, and in some others, greater maturity is seen.
The three variables are normal, given that within growth it is necessary to consider physical or anthropometric measurements and biological maturation, which is determined by bone age, which is established based on an X-ray of the wrist and bones of the left hand (carpus) to compare the scores by international standards. There is a sex difference between males and females; males have taller and larger dimensions.
Studies show that Mexican women mature earlier than European and American women.
However, women reach adolescence two years earlier than men and also finish their growth stage earlier. On the other hand, they continue to grow and surpass them in body dimensions. Another maturation parameter is menarche or the time of the first menstruation. It is also considered that if an individual grows less than one centimeter per year, he or she has already reached the adult stage.
Mexican women mature earlier
Based on a trilogy of studies conducted by Sáenz Faulhaber -and before that by Johanna Faulhaber Kammann, who was also a researcher at the IIA and an honorary doctorate from UNAM (1996)- on middle-class children and adolescents in Mexico City, it was determined that they begin their pre-adolescence at 10 years of age, on average. The menarche data also show that they mature earlier than other populations, such as Europeans or Americans, since the first menstruation occurs, on average, at 12.5 years of age. "By maturing earlier, they also stop growing earlier."
As it occurs early, young women also have earlier bone maturation compared to other populations; the two events are linked and the difference in growth between 15 and 16 years of age is less than one centimeter. "With these indicators, we can affirm, with a high degree of certainty, that between these ages, young Mexican women are already in an adult state or very close to it," said María Elena Sáenz.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of adolescence, boys have smaller body dimensions and stature than girls, they are also less biologically mature; their bone age is lower. But they continue to grow for a longer period and some grow more than two centimeters per year after the age of 18. Thus, a difference of up to seven centimeters can be recorded between the ages of 15 and 18. When they enter adulthood, their average height is 1.71 meters, and "surely most of them have already reached their final height". In girls, on the other hand, the average height is 1.67 meters and does not vary between adolescence and adulthood.
The better and more balanced development of the different regions would lead to a healthier population.
The premature maturation of Mexican women could be due to a genetic issue. This is consistent with a study done in a Venezuelan population, where the same thing was found. "It may be a question of Latin countries because menarche in populations such as Argentina is also earlier than in Anglo-Saxon countries". The expert considered it essential "to be very concerned about the children, their nutrition, physical health, and emotional wellbeing -because it has been seen that when there are psychological problems, such as depression, growth stops-, and to motivate them to do a physical activity because all this will contribute to forming healthy adults".
More research is urgently needed
Saenz Faulhaber stressed the importance of new generations of anthropologists, physicians, and pediatricians becoming interested in carrying out the growth studies, which require resources, as well as decades of follow-up and application of the same techniques and methodologies by trained personnel so that the data are reliable and comparable with other populations. They are needed because beyond the height that children and adolescents reach, the important thing is that they become healthy adults, a basic aspect of our development as a population. Unlike other nations and regions such as the United States and Europe, in Mexico, there are no national studies on the growth and physical maturation of the population. Those that have been done, the expert clarified, have only been local.