History of ISGA


The International Society for the Study of Human Growth and Clinical Auxology was established to expand our understanding of human growth and development in health and disease. Most importantly, it has been a forum for researchers from around the globe to share and compare studies of human growth in different contexts to gain insight into the forces that shape human growth, problems in human growth and their remedies.

The Origins of ISGA

1950s: The society was predated by the biannual Centre Internationale de L’Enfance (ICC) meetings at Chateau Longchamp in Paris under the organization of Natalie Masse from 1954 until 1976.  Following the untimely death of Masse in 1975, the first Congress on Auxology was held in Rome in 1977 with James Tanner and Frank Falkner as the chief organizers.  They brought together leaders of major cohort studies of human growth and development from Europe (UK, France, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Turkey), the United States of America, and Africa (Senegal, Uganda).  A goal of the meeting was to assemble knowledge about the conduct of cohort studies, the analysis of longitudinal growth data and results from ongoing studies. 

The subsequent meeting was held in Havana, Cuba in 1979, hosted by José Jordan. Results of the Cuban National Growth Study were presented along with other topics, including growth and nutrition, and the conduct of longitudinal growth studies.   At that meeting it was decided that the group would meet every three years with different host countries, with James Tanner serving as Secretary General of the society.

The Evolution of ISGA Triannual Congresses

1980s: In 1982 the IIIrd Congress was held in Brussels hosted by Charles Susanne and Roland Hauspie as presidents of the congress.  Although a considerable amount of the program was given over to discussion of longitudinal studies and cohort data analyses, other topics became more prominent; sessions on growth references, international variation in growth patterns, and environmental influences on growth were included.  A lecture by James Tanner began the congress.  A selection of papers from this congress was published in 1984 under the broad title of Human Growth (J. Borms, R. Hauspie, A. Sand, C. Susanne and M. Hebbelinck (eds.), Plenum Press, N.Y.). This was the first volume from an auxology congress.  (For a complete list of publications from the congresses, see the List of Publications from Congresses on this site).  

The IVth Congress was held in Montreal in 1985 with Arturo Demirjian as president. The program combined clinical issues (the assessment of growth and disorders of growth, treatments) with research on population variation in growth and development. Participants came from a variety of academic and clinical disciplines including pediatrics, dentistry, neonatology, auxology, endocrinology, human biology, biostatistics, anthropology, psychology and public health. James Tanner gave the opening plenary lecture that emphasized the social influences on human growth and did much to establish the term, auxological epidemiology as well as the use of growth studies to assess the health conditions of children.  

In 1988 James Tanner organized the Vth congress in Exeter, UK.  This congress demonstrated in its attendance and content the growing international interest in human growth and development as a field of study. Scientists from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and the Americas presented research findings on a wide variety of subjects: the genetics and endocrinology of growth and growth of tissues, organs and their differentiation during the embryonic period, the mathematical handling of growth data, secular trends and national growth studies. The theme of combining clinical and population research on human growth and development was well established by this meeting.  

1990s: In 1991, the VIth congress was held in Madrid with leadership provided by Manuel Hernandez. This congress was the largest in the history of the Society, attended by more than 600 participants.  Issues around the use of synthetic growth hormone occupied a prominent place in this congress (the effects on growth and final height of recombinant synthetic, genetically engineered growth hormone, ethical problems in treating children with short stature).  

The VIIth congress was held in 1994 in Szombathely, Hungary, under the presidency of Otto Eiben. Amongst the wide variety of subjects, saltatory growth, cyclicities and pulsatilities based on daily measurements emerged as a new field of research.

The VIIIth meeting in 1997 was hosted by Francis E. Johnston and Babette Zemel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and continued to combine clinical and population research. The role of toxic substances in growth, and the relationships of early adipose rebound in childhood and later obesity were new avenues of research. James Tanner informally retired and conveyed the position of Secretary-General to Giulio Gilli.  

2000s: In 2000, the congress (IXth) moved back to Europe, hosted by Giulio Gilli in Torino, Italy.  From this meeting forward, the opening plenary lecture was titled, the Tanner Lecture, and the first  was given by the Nobel Lauriat in Economics, Robert W. Fogel.   In that work he employed the approach of auxological epidemiology championed by James Tanner and elucidated at the 1985 Montreal Congress. His lecture was titled “Auxology and economics”.  At the close of this meeting the post of Secretary-General was transferred from James Tanner to Giulio Gilli.

The Xth congress was held in Florence, Italy and was hosted by Ivan Nicoletti in 2004.  The Tanner lecture was given by Edoardo Boncinelli, on yet another new avenue of knowledge in the science of growth: the role of homeobox genes in human development. Also introduced in this meeting was the link between auxology and the ethology of diseases, modern urbanism and human growth, and the handling of data on psychomotor development. To encourage auxological work in Asia the executive committee accepted the invitation from Kumi Ashisawa to hold the XIth congress in Tokyo in 2007.  The congress participants including large numbers from Japan and other Asian countries as well as participants from Europe, India, the US and South America.  For the first time, the invited plenary papers were published online and so were widely available.  At the close of this meeting the post of Secretary-General was transferred to Horacio Lejarraga from Giulio Gilli.

2010s: In 2011, the XIIth congress was held in Mexico City organized by Luis Vargas as congress president.  Obesity, body composition and epigenetics were subjects of discussion. The Mexico congress provided an opportunity for researchers in Mexico and South American countries to present and discuss their work. Noel Cameron, one of Tanner’s prominent students in the 1970s, gave the Tanner Lecture. 

In 2014, the XIIIth congress moved back to Europe and was held in Maribor, Slovenia with Martin Bigec as president. Some major issues presented were: Barker `s hypothesis, and the impact of early nutrition on the metabolic syndrome in the adult, mathematical modelling of cross sectional and longitudinal data, and population studies. Noel Cameron delivered a second Tanner lecture (“Healthy human growth: the challenge for the 21st century”).  

In 2017, the XIVth congress was held in Buenos Aires in conjunction with the Argentine Paediatric Society, with Horacio Lejarraga as president. Lawrence Schell, who had pioneered the study of the effect of environmental toxicants on growth and development, gave the Tanner lecture titled, “New Influences on Sexual Maturation and Growth: What does Tanner’s Mirror show us now?”  Major subjects of discussion in this meeting were tthe remarkable reduction in prevalence of stunting as an indicator of child health at country level, the molecular genetics of idiopathic short stature, progress made in the evaluation of growth in the first year of life, as well as the impact on growth on environmental pollutants.   The position of Secretary–General was formally transferred from Horacio Lejarraga to Noel Cameron.

Looking Ahead

2020s: The XVth Congress of Auxology will be held in Šibenik, Croatia in May 2020 under the presidency of Sasa Missoni of the Institute of Anthropological Research, Zagreb. REGISTER NOW   

The 15 Congresses of the International Society for the Study of Human Growth and Clinical Auxology have been made possible by the enthusiasm and dedication of a growing number of scientists from many clinical disciplines and specialist backgrounds.  All are agreed upon the importance of the study of the growth and development of children as a fundamental science in paediatrics and in human biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky said that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” and could have added “and in the understanding of ontogeny.”