Humans became taller on average over the last century, researchers say, but those gains vary


Humans became taller on average over the last century, researchers say, but those gains vary


My grandfather is 101, and is noticeably shorter than he was 50 years ago. Weird.


Incidentally, most of those countries where people are appreciably shorter tend to be countries with higher levels of childhood malnourishment.


Ah… but is he taller than he was 100 years ago? :wink:


No data for Western Sahara?:eek:


The human vertebrae do collapse to an extent in old age; it’s a result of gravity.



I don’t know about that. Japan & Argentina are not known as a countries of childhood malnourishment.

While I think child nourishment plays a role, it’s also interesting to see that the countries with tall people have also been influenced by Hollywood the most.

My guess is, besides nourishment differences, men & women in these countries have been very picky regarding their spouses, leading them to pick spouses who are of a preferred height for them due to the sexual revolution and serial dating phenomenon. From what I know of many other cultures, height isn’t really a “status icon” in the dating world.

So I believe it’s a combo of more protein (these countries eat a lot of beef and chicken) and selective matting due to the serial dating & fornication culture.


Countries of very old civilizational age also grow smaller human bodies, possibly as a result of genetic adaptation to exhausted land and caloric scarcity. Smaller bodies are easier to keep alive.



I wonder (ever since a high school biology teacher put the notion into my head, half a lifetime ago) how that map correlates with countries-where-cow’s-milk-makes-up-a-large-part-of-childhood-nutrition?

(How quickly does a calf to grow into a cow? Eighteen months?)



And while this may shock fans of the NBA, white Americans are slightly taller than black Americans. It is very likely the result of differences in childhood nutrition.

My Dad was 5’8" and was the second tallest of his father’s seven sons. My brothers and I are 6’2", 6’1", 6’0" and 5’10". Those gains are unlikely to be repeated in the next generation, but all three of my youngest brother’s sons are the tallest boys in their classes at school. One of his daughters will be trying to make her high school basketball team this year and could use some height. The team is two time defending state champions.


I thought it was the medium to short sized people that tended to live longer. I’ve read that before and noticed it in my family. NBA players don’t seem to live long lives either. Hmmm…


I think the fact he has achieved the age of 101, especially if he is in reasonably good health, is a reason to be thankful rather than being too concerned about shrinking (not that you or he is). The latter process is common among older people.


True to a degree, but it’s mainly due to the gradual dessication and eventual flattening of spinal discs. Discs lose their blood supply during a person’s 20s and the only nutrition they receive thereafter is from the cerebral spinal fluid. That’s why a young person’s blown disc can heal while an older person’s is unlikely to do so. Many older people don’t have discs left at all in many places, and their vertebrae fuse together, which is one of the reasons very old people are not very flexible.

Now, in defense of shortness. I don’t know whether people live longer if they’re shorter or not, but short people are less vulnerable to lumbar spinal injuries than are tall people. The reason is that the lumbar spine takes a lot of pressure with spinal movement, particularly in bending and twisting. The taller one is, the greater is the mechanical pressure on the lumbar spine, and the greater is the potential for a blown disc or an “endplate” rupture.

A few years ago, I had occasion to talk to an orthopaedic surgeon about that, as it had always seemed to me taller people had a greater incidence of herniated or leaky discs. The surgeon told me he had actually done a study on it with his patients and wrote an extract on it, and confirmed it, at least to his satisfaction. He, himself, was 6’4" and had already had disc surgery. He asked if I had any kind of back problems and, though I was older than he was, I never had any whatever. I’m a short fellow, and he actually congratulated me on the condition of my lumbar spine. But he told me what the pressure difference is in, say, bending over by a short person or a tall one, and the difference is quite significant.

So, while there are shortcomings (no pun intended) to being short, there are blessings as well.


Stores can get in trouble if their shelves are too high for short people, but if a tall person has to bend over to get something off a low shelf–too bad. I sometimes feel called to help short people reach for something on a high shelf because I used to be short myself.


The map is a bit meaningless since it only show the 1996 birth cohort. I’d like to see previous years.
I’m wondering if the US and W. Europe were taller in previous decades and there’s now a deviation toward the mean.


It’s also hard to gauge especially in a large country like the US that has a less homogenous population. The average height varies from state to state (or region to region). So it would be a question of not just external factors like nutrition, but also things like genetic makeup of the population. Nutrition will not override genetic predisposition to smaller stature.


A number of factors probably play into height. I recall that Julius Caesar made comments concerning the Gauls (Celts) and the Teutons (Germanic peoples). Caesar remarked on the stature and physical robustness of the Gauls, but particularly of the Teutons who, he said, were “…if anything, wilder and taller than the Gauls”. He attributed the physiognomy of the Teutons to their nearly total meat diet. At the time, Roman soldiers were primarily grain-eaters; their ordinary ration consisting in “pulmentum” a sort of grain cereal from which the Italian word “Polenta” is derived.

But it’s also likely the Teutons were larger than Romans because of genetics. If one visits, say, France and Germany, there is a visible difference in size, generally, between them.

It can be interesting to visit museums in which clothing of people from long ago is displayed. I was astounded in visiting the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis, to see how tiny the uniforms and other clothing of some of the early French are; certainly smaller than Frenchmen today. Undoubtedly, nutrition and overall health had a lot to do with that. I have read, as well, that the children of Japanese immigrants to the U.S. in the 20th Century were much taller than their parents and people living in Japan. Of course, the traditional Japanese diet in Japan was very sparse fare, indeed, particularly in terms of protein.

Sometimes societies do their own “selective breeding” which produce certain results. The ancient Spartans, for example, were described as very robust. But then, they exposed sickly infants to the elements.

Regardless, sometimes societies develop “hybrid vigor” through inadvertent mixing of various genetic strains. Sometimes narrow breeding is not favorable. I recall a British study of men and women who were very highly educated, particularly in math and science. They tend, apparently, to marry each other because they are educated together and move in the same social circles. The autism/Asperger’s rate among their children is, however, much higher than that of people generally. As societies slowly stratify (as I believe is the case in this country) the gene pool narrows.

The entire American South is composed mainly of people of Scots-Irish ancestry. How many boatloads of immigrants constituted the ancestors of them all, one wonders. It could not have been many. I have heard people from other places comment that “…all the people in Springfield Mo look alike” and “…all the people there are blonde”. Well, they really aren’t all blonde and they don’t all look alike, but there are probably some fairly common genetically-acquired features that make it seem so to one who is used to a more heterogenous population. Some parts of Missouri are populated mainly by descendants of Rhinelanders. Those who don’t move away tend to marry people just like themselves. Much of the Missouri Valley is full of Rhinelanders.

One also wonders whether there are cultural affinities of which we’re really not aware, that tend to narrow gene pools. It could be a matter of some concern over long periods of time.


I wonder if gains in nutrition post-Depression led to taller Americans until maybe the 80s-90s when changed eating habits produced a shorter more obese population.


Perhaps. I remember reading several years ago that clean water made a huge impact on growth rates. Replacing it with 10% fruit juice or soda cetainly impacts obesity rates.

I think it also can be a shift in immigration and fertility patterns though. I’m an average height white guy, at least in theory. In my area though I’m on the low end of normal with dozens of “norther European” descended coworkers in the 6’ 2" plus range. I often feel short at 5’ 10" in the white peer group. Now if I hang out with a predominantly Hispanic group I tend to be one of the taller people in the group. Just based on observation, even 1st and 2nd generation latin americans seem to average a couple inches shorter than me. The same for a number of people from India and the middle east. Where fertility rates come in is that whites have tended to have fewer kids, so if the mix of northern European decreases and is replaced with groups that tend to be shorter it will also drop the average height.

I don’t know what the immigration looks like for countries that have continued to grow taller. Has their genetic population mix changed significantly. Those are the types of questions I’m most interested in.


Yes, but I don’t think our genetic code says we will be 5’6". I think the genetic code (more or less) gives a range. The external factors, like nutrition, determine whether we reach our maximum height potential or not.

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