British women now average 5′ 5″ (164.4 cm) compared to 5′ (153.4 cm) at the start of the century.
This pushes them up the world league table of the tallest from 57th place in 1914 to 38th place today.
British men have grown to 5′ 10″ (178 cm), up 10.6 cm, and have moved up from 36th to 31st place.
Who are the tallest?
Latvian women are the tallest and average 5′ 7″ (170 cm)
Dutch men are the tallest at 6′ (183 cm)
Who are the shortest?
Men from East Timor and the Yemen at 5′ 3″ (160 cm), Laos (161 cm), Madagascar and Malawi (both 5′ 4″ or 162 cm).
Women from Guatemala at 4′ 11″ (149 cm), the Philippines (150 cm), and Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor (all 151 cm).
The researchers compared data from people who were 18 in 914 with those of the same age in 2014. The difference is partly genetic and partly due to nutrition, sanitation, and health. Particularly important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.
“Height is a mirror to our social environment” said Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College.
The biggest increases have been in rapidly developing countries such as Japan and South Korea where women are now 8″ (20 cm) taller than before WW11. Iranian men have grown by the same amount.
Americans have grown by 5cm over the review period but have dropped down the league tables from 3rd for men and 4th for women in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively. This was probably connected to their obesity problem – lots of calories but not good nutrition – said Professor Ezzati.
In sub-Saharan Africa people are actually getting smaller.
Tall people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, there is some evidence that they are at greater risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, postmenopausal breast and ovarian cancers.
“One hypothesis is that growth factors may promote mutated cells,” said another Imperial co-author, Elio Riboli.
I’m always a bit bemused by stories like this about average height because I come from a tall family and am used to being around tall people. 6′ (183 cm) doesn’t seem tall to me yet it’s taller than the average British male.
And being tall does have some advantages at work.
League table showing top 10 from 187 countries surveyed
The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):
- Netherlands (12)
- Belgium (33)
- Estonia (4)
- Latvia (13)
- Denmark (9)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
- Croatia (22)
- Serbia (30)
- Iceland (6)
- Czech Republic (24)
The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):
- Latvia (28)
- Netherlands (38)
- Estonia (16)
- Czech Republic (69)
- Serbia (93)
- Slovakia (26)
- Denmark (11)
- Lithuania (41)
- Belarus (42)
- Ukraine (43)