Simanaitis Says

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THE TALL GUY—or gal—gets the goods. Researcher Majid Ezzati at Imperial College London notes, “Being taller is associated with enhanced longevity, and higher education and earnings.” Examining this worldwide, he looked at a total of 1472 studies collecting heights of more than 18.6 million people born in 200 different countries between 1896 and 1996.

The result is “A Century of Trends in Adult Human Height,” by Majid Ezzati et al, published in the journal eLife. A summary from Imperial College London by Kate Wighton is titled “Dutch Men and Latvian Women Tallest in World According to 100-Year Height Study.” Both the summary and original paper contain a wealth of tidbits, several of which I share here.

In much, but not all, of the world, people have generally grown in height over the past 100 years. In Great Britain, both men and women are around 4.3 in. taller. Differences in China are comparable to those in Britain, 4.3 in. for men and 3.9 in. women. U.S. men and women have increased their heights by 2.4 and 2.0 in., respectively.

Some regions, particularly North and sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, have seen a decline in average height. In Sierra Leone, Uganda and Rwanda, for example, average heights in the past 40 years have decreased by as much as 2.0 in.

Height differences between men and women have remained largely unchanged over the 100 years. The average gender gap was about 4.3 in. in 1914 and is 4.7 in. today.

Baltic women showed dramatic changes in absolute height. Among the 200 countries in the study, Latvia rose from 28th to 1st, Estonia from 16th to 3rd and Lithuania from 41st to 8th. Women from the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia and Denmark also showed upward trending.

Image from NPR.

Image from NPR.

The tallest men in the study are from the Netherlands; they average 6 ft. The tallest women are from Latvia, at 5 ft. 7 in.


Heights of men around the world, 1896, 1996. This and the following image from eLife.

The shortest men in the today’s world are from Timor Leste, Maritime Southeast Asia; their average height, 5 ft. 3 in. The shortest of today’s women are Guatemalan, averaging 4 ft. 11 in.


Heights of women around the world, 1896, 1996.

The U.S. population is falling in the ranks. In 1914, its men were 3rd tallest in the world; its women, 4th tallest. Today, they rank 37th and 42nd place, respectively. Notes the Imperial College London summary, “Overall, the top ten tallest nations in 2014 for men and women were dominated by European countries, and featured no English-speaking nation.”

As these changes over time imply, height has a nature/nurture duality: It’s inherited, but it’s also related to how people live. Also, though not addressed in the paper, changes in a nation’s ethnic makeup over 100 years would affect the “birth cohorts,” that is, the characteristics of those born during a particular period.

In any case, researcher Ezzati observes, “This confirms we urgently need to address children and adolescents’ environment and nutrition on a global scale, and ensure we’re giving the world’s children the best possible start on life.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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