High school sucks for a lot of people. It’s a war zone not easily navigated by those not blessed with the proper tools at the proper times. And though any intelligent kid with a solid family and good parenting can get through relatively unscathed no matter what hand they’re dealt, it’s no secret that life is a little easier for the tall, strong and beautiful.
These kids are also more likely to succeed later in life. Obviously there are plenty of counter-examples, both of star quarterbacks who ended up as garbage men and the skinny loners who turned into Bill Gates, but I think it’s fair to say the more athletic men have an upper hand. I mean even if they’ve got rocks for brains, they can make a decent living putting those muscles to good use in construction and manual labor.
Debate me all you’d like on these points, but there’s another type of success in which the tall and strong historically have an advantage; procreation. Throughout history – and arguably extending into modern day – those that hit puberty early, are taller and have more lean muscle are more likely to spread their seed successfully. And according to a new study from Northwestern University, it is possible to push your baby boys towards a successful phenotype.
According to the paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, baby boys who grow the fastest in their first six months of life end up hitting puberty earlier and becoming taller and stronger than their peers. In a surprising twist, this gives a little bit of an edge to those born slightly underweight rather than the big boys because they often grow faster in order to compensate.
The scientists believe this phenomenon is associated with the two bursts of testosterone every young male experiences. The first comes in the womb and is responsible for giving the men their twigs and berries a well as other somatic traits. The second comes in the first six months of life in comparable amounts to adult levels, which quickly declines and remains nonexistent until puberty.
These early surges are controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. This obvious medical term is responsible for regulating allocations of resources for the developing body for traits such as height and muscle mass. The theory goes that if babies are eating lots of good, healthy food and growing fast right after birth, the HPG axis figures it can expend more energy towards developing a bigger body when the time comes later down the line.
The results come from a massive, 20-year, 700-person study conducted in rural and urban areas of Cebu, Philippines. It began in 1983 and followed the young men through puberty and into young adulthood. Obviously, those raised in affluent families with enough income to feed them appropriately grew the most in the first six months of life on average. But even when the data was adjusted for socioeconomic factors, the results were clear.
Of all the time periods and variables studies, weight gain in the first six months was the strongest predictor for adult height, lean mass, arm muscle area, grip strength and early maturity.
So just in case you’re hoping your baby boy will play for the Browns some day, make sure he gets plenty of food and packs on the pounds ASAP. On the other hand, if he’s going to play for the Browns, you just have to make sure he can take a sack.