Sexual Dimorphism of Size Ontogeny and Life History
German, A.; Hochberg, Z.'e.
Frontiers in Pediatrics 8: 387
Background: Ecological and physiological factors and social and economic constraints affect sex-specific body size. Here, we used the male/female (M/F) height ratio as an indicator of the combined effect of genetic and sex characteristics. We hypothesized that (1) sexual dimorphism in body size will be established during infancy and adolescence when growth velocity is maximal, (2) living standards and health are important factors which can affect sexual dimorphism in body size, (3) variations in sexual dimorphism in body size are due to the differential response of boys and girls to environmental cues, and (4) sexual dimorphism in body size will be more pronounced in those populations whose average height and weight are the greatest. Methods: To study the ontogeny of sexual dimorphism from birth until the age of 18 years, we used the 2000 CDC growth data. Data on height by country, life expectancy, and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita based on purchasing power parity were extracted from the national accounts data of NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, the World Bank, Eurostat: Demographic Statistics, Secretariat of the Pacific Community: Statistics and Demography Program, and the US Census Bureau. Results: We found that sexual dimorphism in body size starts at age 1 month, peaks at age 3 months, and diminishes by age 24 months. During childhood, there is no sexual difference in body size, and it is gradually established when the boys enter puberty. The M/F height ratio correlates positively with the average male and female height and weight by country. Conclusion: Sexual dimorphism in body size occurs when (a) the growth velocity is maximal during infancy and adolescence, (b) living standards are high, and health correlate positively with male/female height ratio. Anthropological studies and our results emphasize mostly the female resiliency hypothesis: shorter male heights in times of environmental stress lead to smaller sexual dimorphism in body size.