Dutch, world’s tallest people, could be shrinking due to poor diet: Study

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The Dutch office for national statistics has confirmed that their people are the tallest in the world but noted that they have gradually been shrinking over the years, online news media The Guardian reported on Friday.

The latest data suggests that the average height of a 19-year-old man was over 6 feet tall (182.9 cm) in 2020, while women were around 5 foot 6 (169.3 cm).

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The Netherlands however still maintains its position since 1958, excluding its 1967 record, Dutch government institution the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS) finds.

Based on surveys of almost 720,000 people between the ages of 19 and 60, CBS reported that Dutch men born in 2001 were on average 1cm shorter than the generation born in 1980, and women were 1.4cm shorter. It also noted that upon further investigation, the change in average height is not only due to people coming into the Netherlands from other countries.

“The decrease is partly related to the increased immigration of shorter new population groups and the children born from these populations in the Netherlands,” CBS stated.

“But the growth also stagnated in the generation 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 migration background did not get any taller and women without a migration background show a downward trend.”

‘Diets may have changed’

Dr. Gert Stulp from the University of Gronigen’s faculty of behavioral and social sciences told The Guardian that while the theories that have been put forward as of yet remain to be mostly speculative, he would be interested in knowing whether the economic crisis in 2007 had a role to play in the country’s height crisis.

“Perhaps things like the financial crisis have meant that some children grew up in poorer conditions than in earlier cohorts. Or perhaps inequality has risen: we know inequality affects average height, poorer childhood conditions lead to less growth in the vertical direction,” he said.

A similar trend was seen in the US, Stulp said, suggesting that the uptake in consumption of fast food could be a factor.

Diets may have changed,” he said.

“Perhaps diets in the last years had fewer nutrients important for growth. This is believed to be the reason why the Americans are shrinking; poorer diets, more calories, but fewer nutrients. Even more speculatively, the decrease in height could be due to more people leaving out animal products in their diets. But again, there is no evidence for that.”

He added that there was still a “physiological limit” to how much people were able to grow.

“People are really not going to grow to an average height of three meters.”

Over a century ago, the world’s tallest people were still mainly in northern Europe and North America. It was not until the first half of the 20th century that the Netherlands experienced a significant growth spurt, the Guardian reported.

Dutch men who were born in 1930 reached an average height of 5 foot 9 (175.6 cm). Those born in 1980 recorded an average of 6 feet (183.9 cm), suggesting a growth of 8.3 cm in 50 years.

Dutch women born in 1930 reached an average of 5 foot 5 (165.4 cm) while those born in 1980 reached 5 foot 7 (170.7cm), an average growth spurt of 5.3 cm.

Further research suggested that beyond enjoying a better diet than in previous centuries, the increase in height in Dutch people historically came down to natural selection, the Guardian reported, adding that the people who had the most children were tall men, and women of average height and taller Dutch women tended to reproduce more.

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