Immigrant and refugee children are growing big and strong in San Francisco, according to researchers who reported on Monday that the newcomers are catching up in height and weight to children born in the United States.
"We have no explanation for the spurt of growth. But I think it is due to a better general environment, including the better nutrition these kids are getting," said Norman Kretchmer, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
He co-authored the study with Laurie B. Schumacher, a former UC San Francisco postdoctoral fellow in nutrition, and I. Guy Pawson, associate research anthropologist at the Koret Center for Human Nutrition.
More than 800 children between the ages of 6 and 12 were included in the study. Many went through periods of malnutrition before arriving in the United States and are at high risk for disorders like stunting or wasting, which are related to poor nutrition.
The children are of Latino, Chinese, Filipino and Southeast Asian descent and arrived in San Francisco between 1982 and 1985, the study says. They attend one of three newcomer schools.
"Children in these schools benefit from intensive instruction in basic skills in language and culture," the study says. "Guidance in developing proper eating habits is provided by members of our staff as part of an ongoing dietary educational project."
The children were examined shortly after arriving in the United States and were reexamined quarterly for a year. Their weights for age, heights for age and weights for heights were recorded and compared to median heights and weights for U.S.-born children.
Most of the children fell between the fifth and 25th percentiles of the U.S. population. However, the median growth rate for the children was close to or exceeded the median rates for U.S.-born children.
"These results suggest that most children during their first year in the United States are in a period of rapid catch-up growth," Kretchmer and his co-authors say in the study.
The study says it was unclear how much of the growth was due to the benefits offered through the schools and their nutritional programs, "but the point is, that these children were able to grow in a new environment."