What Factors Affect Physical Development in Childhood?

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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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There are many factors that affect physical development in childhood. They fall into two primary categories, namely, biological aspects and environmental influences. These different factors generally have more or less influence during the various stages of childhood. The particular effects of each factor also vary from child to child. Determining the exact outcome that each factor will have on any particular child is nearly impossible, but in most instances, there will be some degree of influence.

Biological factors that affect physical development in childhood include heredity, genetics, and ethnicity. Illness and physical abnormalities greatly influence a child’s physical development. Nutrition plays a large role, as well, and includes not only the child’s nutrition but also the prenatal nutrition and the health of the child's mother.

With regard to heredity and ethnicity, the physical attributes of a child are largely determined by his or her parents. For instance, if there is a family history of short stature, chances are the child will not grow to be very tall. Similarly, ethnicity often determines developmental factors such a skin or hair color. This not only includes obvious characteristics, such as hair color and height, but can also include “hidden” characteristics, such as a child’s predisposition toward weight gain.


Additionally, some conditions related to physical development in childhood are genetically wired into the child. For instance, an endocrine deficiency such as hypothyroidism will often stunt a child’s skeletal development. Other physical conditions or illnesses can also impact a child’s physical development. For instance, if a child develops a severe lung infection during infancy, his or her lungs may not develop properly, and the child could have residual effects throughout his or her lifetime. When serious illnesses are encountered in the earlier stages of childhood growth, they generally have a greater impact on later development.

Nutrition plays a huge role in physical development in childhood. If prenatal nutrition is lacking, an infant is likely to demonstrate developmental delays. Similarly, if a child does not receive a sufficient amount of vitamins and other nutrients in his or her early years, the body will not be able to grow properly. This is a tremendous problem and readily apparent in parts of the world plagued by malnutrition.

While environmental factors are often associated emotional development, they also play a role in physical development as well. For instance, studies have shown that children grow more rapidly during the spring and summer months than during fall and winter. Therefore, children who are raised in warmer climates commonly grow at a more rapid pace than those raised in colder climates. As an additional example of environmental impact, children who are raised in areas where air pollution is an issue tend to have a higher incidence of asthma and other breathing problems and are more prone to developmental issues. Of course, issues such as abuse and neglect, also considered as environmental influences, have a grave effect on physical development in childhood.

Sometimes, the categories of biological and environmental factors overlap and become more difficult to distinguish. For instance, socioeconomic factors, such as poverty levels, can cause a child to be undernourished, which will in turn impact the child’s physical development. As another example, a child born to a migrant family and subject to child labor might not get the adequate amount of sleep and rest for his or her body to develop normally.

No two children develop in the same way. Similarly, no two children will react to biological and environmental factors in exactly the same way either. Consequently, while it is possible to pinpoint what factors will affect physical development in childhood, it is often quite difficult to predict what those effects will be.


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