If you ever need help reaching something at the top of a high shelf, your best bet may be to look for a Dutch man or a Latvian woman.
A comprehensive analysis of human height in the journal eLife conclusively states that these two population groups are the tallest on the planet, with the former coming in at an average of 183 centimeters (6 feet) tall, and the latter averaging a height of 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches).
Tracking growth trends in 187 countries for 100 years across 1,472 population-based studies, the study also reveals that the shortest men on the planet live on East Timor, where the average height is 160 centimeters (5 feet 3 inches).
The smallest women reside in Guatemala, a status they held back in 1914, when the study began. Back then, they were 140 centimeters (4 feet 7 inches) – today, they are just reaching 150 centimeters (4 feet 11 inches).
The rankings for tallest populations are dominated by European nations today, with Australian men being the only non-European nationality in the top 25. The US, once home to the third and fourth tallest men and women respectively on the planet, now rank 37th and 42nd. The UK, meanwhile, is 31st for men and 38th for women.
Although it seems we are living in the Age of Very Tall Europeans, growth rates in the West have largely flatlined, as noted by BBC News. It’s likely that future rankings may see East Asian nations displacing some European ones.
“Our study also shows the English-speaking world, especially the USA, is falling behind other high-income nations in Europe and Asia Pacific,” lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, the Chair in Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
The top 10 nations for tallest women in 2014 (compared to their 1914 rankings) are:
1 - Latvia (28)
2 - Netherlands (38)
3 - Estonia (16)
4 - Czech Republic (69)
5 - Serbia (93)
6 - Slovakia (26)
7 - Denmark (11)
8 - Lithuania (41)
9 - Belarus (42)
10 - Ukraine (43)
The top 10 nations for tallest men in 2014 (compared to their 1914 rankings) are:
1 - Netherlands (12)
2 - Belgium (33)
3 - Estonia (4)
4 - Latvia (13)
5 - Denmark (9)
6 - Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
7 - Croatia (22)
8 - Serbia (30)
9 - Iceland (6)
10 - Czech Republic (24)
Changes in average adult height from 1896 to 1996. NCD Risk Factor Collaboration/eLife
Curiously, people in parts of Africa and the Middle East (such as Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt) grew taller from 1914 until 1980, but since then, they have shrunk. Conversely, East Asia has seen some of the most rapid increases in height, with those in Japan, China, and South Korea far taller than they were a century ago.
Men and women in China, for example, have increased in height by 11 and 10 centimeters (4.3 and 3.9 inches) respectively, whereas the equivalent in the US has been an increase of 6 and 5 centimeters (2.4 and 2.0 inches). The biggest growth spurts over the last century have occurred in Iranian men and South Korean women, who have increased their verticality by 16 centimeters (6.3 inches) and 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) on average.
Height is partly determined by genetics, health, and sanitary conditions. However, the link between height and nutrition, which is controlled by a person’s socio-economic background, is particularly strong.
Good diets, available to wealthier nations, significantly boost growth rates. As an example, the dramatic rise in height of Dutch people can be clearly correlated with the country’s rise in GDP. Consequently, several economists have used height as a proxy measure for overall social wellbeing.
Overall GDP isn’t the only factor at play here, though – economic inequality in certain nations means that not everyone has access to the best, healthiest diets. This may explain why, despite being the wealthiest nation on Earth, the US – with its large divide between rich and poor – has slipped down the rankings.
Diet, particularly during pregnancies and childhood, strongly determines an individual's adult height. Just having a genetic predisposition towards being tall isn't good enough. Foxys Forest Manufacture/Shutterstock