Volume 76, Issue 4 p. 92-126
Original Article


Dana E. Johnson

Corresponding Author

Dana E. Johnson

Corresponding author: Dana E. Johnson, UMMC, Fairview, 2450 Riverside Ave., East Bldg. MB622, Minneapolis, MN 55454, email: [email protected]Search for more papers by this author
Megan R. Gunnar
First published: 21 December 2011
Citations: 70

MRG was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health: 080905, 078105, and 079513.


Children within institutional care settings experience significant global growth suppression, which is more profound in children with a higher baseline risk of growth impairment (e.g., low birth weight [LBW] infants and children exposed to alcohol in utero). Nutritional insufficiencies as well as suppression of the growth hormone–insulin-like growth factor axis (GH-IGF-1) caused by social deprivation likely both contribute to the etiology of psychosocial growth failure within these settings. Their relative importance and the consequent clinical presentations probably relate to the age of the child. While catch-up growth in height and weight are rapid when children are placed in a more nurturing environment, many factors, particularly early progression through puberty, compromise final height. Potential for growth recovery is greatest in younger children and within more nurturing environments where catch-up in height and weight is positively correlated with caregiver sensitivity and positive regard. Growth recovery has wider implications for child well-being than size alone, because catch-up in height is a positive predictor of cognitive recovery as well. Even with growth recovery, persistent abnormalities of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system or the exacerbation of micronutrient deficiencies associated with robust catch-up growth during critical periods of development could potentially influence or be responsible for the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional sequelae of early childhood deprivation. Findings in growth-restricted infants and those children with psychosocial growth are similar, suggesting that children experiencing growth restriction within institutional settings may also share the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome in adulthood (obesity, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease). Psychosocial deprivation within any caregiving environment during early life must be viewed with as much concern as any severely debilitating childhood disease.