Perhaps it is with a shred of satisfaction that the Dutch Office for National Statistics has confirmed that the men and women of the Netherlands are still the tallest people on the planet. But government statisticians have had reason to report another potentially humiliating twist: The Dutch are shrinking.
Over the past six decades, people in the lowlands have held sway to the top of the world height rankings, with the latest data suggesting that the average 19-year-old man was just over 6 feet tall. ) in 2020, while women born in the same year measured at 5 feet 5 inches (169.3 cm).
The finding by the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (CBS), a government institution, means that the Netherlands maintains its lofty place, which it has held since 1958, excusing an incident in 1967 when men born that year took a miserable second place. in the rankings.
But based on surveys of 719,000 people between the ages of 19 and 60, CBS has had to report that after a period of stagnation and now clear contraction, Dutch men born in 2001 are on average 1 cm shorter than the generation born in the Netherlands in 1980, and Dutch women are 1.4 cm smaller. And a more detailed analysis suggests that not everything can be explained by people coming to the Netherlands from other countries.
“The decrease is partly related to the increase in immigration of new smaller population groups and children born to these populations in the Netherlands,” explained government statisticians. “But growth also stalled 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 with no immigration history did not get taller and women with no immigration history show a downward trend. “
Scientists have been quick to offer some possible explanations and even corrective solutions to the country’s altitude crisis.
Dr Gert Stulp, from the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Groningen, said that while the theories at this point were merely speculative, he would be interested to see if the economic crisis of 2007 could have had an impact. “Perhaps things like the financial crisis have meant that some children grew up in worse conditions than in previous cohorts,” he said. “Or perhaps inequality has increased: we know that inequality affects average height, the worst conditions in childhood lead to less growth in the vertical direction.”
The discovery of a similar trend in the US suggests that the increase related to unhealthy fast food consumption could be a factor, he suggested.
“The diets may have changed,” Stulp said. “Perhaps the diets of the last few years had fewer important nutrients for growth. This is believed to be why Americans are shrinking; poorer diets, more calories, but fewer nutrients. Even more speculatively, the decrease in height could be due to more people neglecting animal products in their diets. But again, there is no evidence for that. “
Stulp, however, did not rule out a switch to healthier foods to help the Dutch keep their record at the table and grow back. “Although, of course, there will be a physiological limit,” he said. “People are not really going to grow to an average height of ten feet.”
Yet the data is a sober reminder to the Dutch that nothing stays the same forever. More than a century ago, the tallest people were still found primarily in North America and Northern Europe, with Sweden and Norway standing out proudly.
It was only in the first half of the 1900s that the Netherlands enjoyed impressive accelerated growth, reaching the heights in the 1950s.
Dutch men born in 1930 had reached an average height of 175.6 cm. Those born in 1980 exceeded 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.
The UK Office for National Statistics does not collect height data routinely, but the latest special study conducted in 2010 suggested that the average height of a man in England and Wales was 5 feet 9 inches (175.3 cm) and a 5 ft 3 in (161.6 cm) female. ).
Research has suggested that, beyond enjoying a better diet than in previous centuries, the Dutch experience was driven by natural selection: the people who had the most children were tall men and women of average height. Compared to their counterparts in other countries where they often tended to have fewer children, taller Dutch women in the Netherlands also reproduced more.
However, there is a remarkably large height difference between people from the north and south of the Netherlands. Men from Friesland in the north have always enjoyed a 3-3.5cm advantage over their compatriots in Limburg in the south. It is reflected among women, where the difference has been about 3 cm.