According to the WHO growth reference standards, the expected average height of a population should be 163 cm for women and 176.5 cm for men. In fact, the global average height for women is only 159.5 cm and for men 171 cm. The data related to average heights vary largely between the countries. We will compare in this article the average height between continents and countries. First, let us find out about the average height in the United States.
Average Height of US-Americans
Between 1999 and 2016, the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NCHS) conducted a large study measuring the average height, weight, and BMI. The nationally representative sample consisted of adults aged over 20. The results showed that mean height did not change in many demographic subgroups, and in some groups, it was even lower in 2016 than in 1999. In contrast, the mean weight, waist circumference, and BMI have all increased during the observation period.
Another study revealed that the average height of US-Americans has increased at a slower rate than many other countries around the world in the last century. In 1914, US-American men were the third and US-American women fourth-tallest in the world. A century later, women ranked only 42nd and men 37th in average height on a global scale. The tables below show the mean height of US adults by age and race in 2015-2016. The average height was about 175.1cm for adult men and about 161.4cm for women.
|Mean Height of US Adults by Age: 2015-2016|
|20-39||176.1 cm||162.7 cm|
|40-59||175.8 cm||162.1 cm|
|60 and over||173.4 cm||159.3 cm|
Table 1 Mean Height by Age; Fryar et al. 2018
|Mean Height of US Adult by Race: 2015-2016|
|Race and Hispanic origin||Men||Women|
|Non-Hispanic White||177.4 cm||163.3 cm|
|Non-Hispanic Nlack||175.5 cm||162.6 cm|
|Non-Hispanic Asian||169.7 cm||156.2 cm|
|Hispanic||169.5 cm||156.7 cm|
Table 2 Mean Height by Race; Fryar et al. 2018
How Tall are Men and Women Across the World?
Variations in height difference across the world do not only indicate only to genetic factors, but also general differences in living standards. This is mainly due to the influence of environmental factors such as nutrition and health.
Looking across the world, the tallest men and women are found in Europe with a mean height of 180 cm for men and 167 cm for women. Citizens of South Asians tend to be the shortest, as women have a mean height of 153 cm and men of 165 cm.
|Mean Height by Continent:|
|North America||177 cm||164 cm|
|South America||171 cm||158 cm|
|Central America||168 cm||155 cm|
|Africa||168 cm||158 cm|
|West, East, Central Asia||171 cm||159 cm|
|South, South-East Asia||164 cm||153 cm|
|Europe||180 cm||167 cm|
|Australia||179 cm||165 cm|
Table 3 Mean Height by Continent; Our World in Data (https://ourworldindata.org/)
Now we figured out the height difference between the continents, but what are the exact countries with the highest and smallest mean height in the world?
The country with the tallest women and men are found in Europe. Men from the Netherlands have the highest average height with 182.5 cm. The country with the shortest men is Timor in South-East Asia at 160 cm. The tallest women in the world live in Latvia with a mean height of 170 cm, whereas women in Guatemala are on average only 149 cm tall.
Until the second half of the 19th century, the Dutch were actually among the the shortest people in Europe. However, due to a change of life quality and a better distribution of wealth, the Dutch became the tallest Europeans by the 1980s. Bolivia and Indonesia on the other side are among the poorest countries in the world and many children are chronically malnourished which also leads to a short height in adult age.
In absolute gains, South Korean women and Iran men showed the largest increase in mean height over the last century. The height of Korean women has increased by 20.2 cm, whereas the Iranian men grew taller on average by 16.5 cm. On the other side of the spectre, the average height of the citizens in Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries has changed very little in the same period.
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- Average Height By Country 2019, World Population Review
- Body size by country, WorldData.info
- Mean Body Weight, Height, Waist Circumference, and Body Mass Index Among Adults: United States, 1999-2000 Through 2015-2016 (Cheryl D. Frayar, M.S.P.H., Deanna Kruszon-Moran, Sc.M., Qiuping Gu, M.D., and Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D.)
- Dutch men and Latvian women tallest in world according to 100-year height study, Imperial College London (Late Wighton)
- Why Are the Dutch So Tall?, HUFFPOST (Randy Olson)
- A century of trends in adult human height (NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC))
- Associations of linear growth and relative weight gain during early life with adult health and human capital in countries of low and middle income: findings from five birth cohort studies, Elsevier Ltd.