The world’s tallest people now hail from the Netherlands and Latvia. A recent look at the average height of people across the globe shows a bit of a difference from the last time it was studied. Apparently, the average Dutch man now measures at 6 ft. tall, and the average Latvian woman is 5’7″. And for the smallest? The shortest men come from East Timor, at an average of 5’3″, while Guatemalan women are coming in just under 4’11”.
Beyond just looking at the current average heights around the world, researchers examined how much people have grown over time. For example, when this type of research began in 1914, Guatemalan women were measuring at 4’7″. And the groups to see the biggest growth spurts are Iranian men and South Korean women (growing, on average, 6 inches and 8 inches, respectively) in the last century.
But what affects average growth across a population? A century isn’t enough time for genetics and natural selection to play a huge role in the changes that researchers have seen since 1914, so the environment is the most likely cause.
Good standards of healthcare, sanitation, and nutrition were the key drivers, he said. Also important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.
Other research has shown that height is correlated with both positive outcomes and a few negative ones.
Tall people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, there is some evidence that they are at greater risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, postmenopausal breast and ovarian cancers.
“One hypothesis is that growth factors may promote mutated cells,” said another Imperial co-author, Elio Riboli.
If you are wondering about where the U.S. falls in the rankings, our height is apparently not very impressive.
Indeed, Americans have tumbled down the rankings. Back in 1914, they had the third tallest men and fourth tallest women on the planet. Today they are in 37th and 42nd place.
— BBC News Graphics (@BBCNewsGraphics) July 26, 2016