Americans are growing shorter than the rest of the world

One hundred years ago, American men and women used to rank third and fourth tallest in the world, respectively — but these days, we’re standing a little less tall.

Instead of towering over the rest world, American women are on average the 42nd tallest, and men, the 37th, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal eLife, and which we first read about at the Washington Post.

How did we lose our stature?

For one thing, lots of countries we used to tower over have grown through better eating. In Northern Europe in particular, improved nutrition led to huge gains in height, elevating Latvia, the Netherlands, and Estonia to the top of the list for tallest women, and the Netherlands, Belgium, and Estonia for tallest men. Dutch men average nearly 6 feet, while Latvian women average 5.5 feet.

Americans aren’t actually shorter — they’re just not getting as tall as everyone else.

But height is also closely linked to health. As nutrition and medical care improves, people grow taller. But Americans’ nutrition is notoriously bad. The fact our height fails to measure up, is closely linked to our growing waistlines.

The opposite can be true — the authors suggest a decline in height in sub-Saharan Africa is probably due to malnutrition — yet the study, which was done in concert with the World Health Organisation, isn’t really about America’s latent Napoleon complex.

“This study gives us a picture of the health of nations over the past century,” study analyst Majid Ezzati told Reuters,. And that picture is a needy one, since Ezzati says it emphasises the need “to address children and adolescents’ environment and nutrition on a global scale.”

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