Dutch are tallest people in the world – but they are shrinking, study finds

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It is perhaps with a hint of satisfaction that the Dutch office for national statistics has confirmed that the men and women of the Netherlands remain the tallest people on the planet. But government statisticians were right to point out another potentially humiliating twist: The Dutch are shrinking.

For the past six decades, plains dwellers have stood imperiously at the top of the world height rankings, with the latest data suggesting that an average 19-year-old man was just over 6 feet (182.9cm) tall in 2020. , while women born in the same year were 5 feet 5 inches (169.3 cm) tall.

The discovery of the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS), a government institution, means the Netherlands retains its high place, which it has held since 1958, excusing an incident in 1967 when men born that year arrived in a miserable second place. in the rankings.

But based on surveys of 719,000 people aged 19 to 60, the CBS had to report that after a period of stagnation and now marked contraction, Dutch men born in 2001 are on average 1 cm taller. smaller than the generation born in the Netherlands in 1980, and Dutch women are 1.4 cm shorter. And further analysis suggests that not everything can be explained by people from other countries in the Netherlands.

“The decrease is in part linked to the increased immigration of new, shorter population groups and children born to these populations in the Netherlands,” said government statisticians.

“But growth has also stagnated in the generations in which both parents were born in the Netherlands, and in the generations in which all four grandparents were born in the Netherlands. Men without a migratory background have not grown taller and women without a migratory background show a decreasing trend. “

Scientists were quick to come up with possible explanations, and even corrective solutions to the country’s height crisis.

Dr Gert Stulp, from the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Groningen, said that even if the theories at this point were only speculative, he would be interested to see if the economic crash of 2007 could have had an impact.

“Maybe things like the financial crisis have meant that some children have grown up in more difficult circumstances than in previous cohorts,” he said. “Or maybe the inequalities have increased: we know that inequalities affect average height, worse childhood conditions lead to less growth in the vertical direction. “

The discovery of a similar trend in the United States suggests that the related increased consumption of unhealthy fast food may be a factor, he suggested.

“Diets may have changed,” Stulp said. “Maybe the diets of the last few years contained fewer nutrients important for growth. This is believed to be the reason Americans are shrinking; poorer diets, more calories, but fewer nutrients. Even more speculatively, the decrease in size could be due to more people omitting animal products from their diets. But again, there is no evidence for this.

Stulp hasn’t ruled out a shift to healthier eating, however, helping the Dutch maintain their table record – and grow again. “Although there will of course be a physiological limit,” he said. “People are really not going to reach an average height of three meters. “

The data is nonetheless a sober reminder to the Dutch that nothing stays the same forever. Over a century ago, the tallest people were still mostly found in North America and Northern Europe, with Sweden and Norway standing proud above all else.

It wasn’t until the first half of the 1900s that the Netherlands experienced an astonishing growth spurt, peaking in the 1950s.

Dutch men born in 1930 had reached an average height of 5 feet 7 inches (175.6 cm). Those born in 1980 were over 6 feet (183.9 cm) – a growth of 8.3 cm in 50 years. The generation of women born in 1930 averaged 5 feet 4 inches (165.4 cm) while those born in 1980 reached 5 feet 6 inches (170.7 cm), almost 5.3 cm taller in height.

The UK Office for National Statistics does not routinely collect height data, but the latest special study in 2010 suggested that the average height of a man in England and Wales was 5 feet 9 inches (175.3 cm) and a woman was 5 feet 3 inches (161.6 cm). ).

Research suggested that beyond better nutrition than in previous centuries, the Dutch experiment was driven by natural selection: the people who had the most children were tall men and tall women. average height. Compared to their counterparts in other countries where they often tend to have fewer children, taller Dutch women in the Netherlands also reproduce more.

There is, however, a remarkably large difference in size between the inhabitants of the north and the south of the Netherlands. The men from Friesland to the north have always enjoyed an advantage of 3 cm to 3.5 cm over their compatriots from Limburg to the south. This is reflected in women, where the difference was approximately 3 cm.


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