Americans Are Shrinking And Koreans Are Growing Taller

Korea has been experiencing a massive growth spurt in the recent years and it doesn’t look like they will be stopping anytime soon.

On average, Korean women have gained 8 inches (20.32 cm) of height in the past century—an increase far greater than any of the world’s populations as determined by researchers this past Tuesday. Currently, for men, Iranians are the world’s winners in height with a staggering 6.5 inch (16.51 cm) increase in the past century.

On the flip side, Americans have been experiencing a decrease in height in recent years. About a century ago in 1914, the United States was home to the 3rd tallest men and 4th tallest women in the world. However, that rank has dropped and now stands at the 40th place for both men and women.

Although populations around the world grew by a substantial margin in the first half of the 20th century, compiled data from the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration showed both stagnation and a decrease in the average adult height of many countries in the past 30 to 40 years.

Take a look at the graph below created by American Media Organization, National Public Radio (NPR).

Korean height has been on a continual rise while other countries have declined or plateaued.

The height of 18-year-old men from 1914 to 2014. / Source: NPR

Data from a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal, eLife, looks at how human height has changed around the world in the past century. Some interesting points worth noting are listed below.

  • American Height Plateau: Americans have only grown about 2 inches (5.08 cm) in the past century.
  • Tallest Men and Women: Sweden previously held the title for tallest men and women in 1914, but that title now belongs to the Baltic countries. Latvia and Estonia both rank among the top 5 countries with the tallest men and women.
  • Shortest Women: Guatemalan women have been the shortest in the world since 1914 with a height increase of 5 inches (12.7 cm).
  • Gender Gap: Men were taller than women worldwide by about 4 inches (10.16 cm) a century ago. Today, that gap has grown to about 5 inches (12.7 cm).

Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London led a study with 800 other scientists and performed about 1,500 surveys to compile measured heights of about 18.6 million people in 200 countries. They found that East Asian 18-year-olds living in Japan, China, and Korea are much taller now than a century ago. Although height in Japan is experiencing a slight decline, height in China and Korea are continuing to rise.

Women Height
18-year-old women’s heights and their greatest gains. Korean women stand at the top of the pack. / Source: NPR

Genes play a vital role in determining how much we grow during childhood and height is a good test of the overall health of a population. Ezzati later added that nutrition also played a big part in determining height.

“Nutrition and the number of childhood infections help determine how tall you grow. And there’s increasingly good evidence that people who are taller on average tend to live longer.”

– Ezzati

To explain decreases in height in countries such as the United States and developing countries, Ezzati offered this quote.

“There was a time when the U.S. was the land of plenty. But increasingly over time, the quality of nutrition has worsened. In some sense, you have a large part of the population who are not getting quality food. That drags down the whole place. The decline here may also be due, in part, to immigration from Central America and South Asia, where people tend to be shorter.”

– Ezzati

Source: NPR