The Dutch are the world's tallest people. But they're getting shorter, study shows

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For years, the Netherlands has been the world's tallest nation. But the average height for Dutch people is shrinking, according to a study published Friday.

Statistics Netherlands (or CBS), a government institution that gathers statistics about the country, says that Dutch men born in 2001 are 0.39 inches (1 centimeter) shorter than those born in 1980. Dutch women are 0.55 inches (1.4 centimeters) shorter. Despite these drops, the Netherlands still has the tallest people in the world – with CBS reporting that today's generation stands, on average, at 6 feet (182.9 centimeters) for men and 5.55 feet (169.3 centimeters) for women.

In their report, the government statisticians concluded that, for most of the 20th century, the Dutch grew taller and taller. But since 1980, that growth stopped.

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Dutch people born in 1980 may have been the tallest in the country's history, with the average heights of 6 feet (183.9 centimeters) for men and 5.6 feet (170.7 centimeters) for women. This marked a significant growth spurt for the 20th century — in 1930, for example, Dutch heights averaged at just 5.76 feet (175.6 centimeters) for men and 5.43 feet (165.4 centimeters) for women.

When considering what could have caused the recent drop, the CBS researchers suggested a connection to increased immigration of new, shorter population groups and the children born from these groups in the Netherlands. But they also noted that growth stagnated in generations in which both parents were born in the Netherlands, as well as in those with all four grandparents born in the Netherlands.

Previous studies proposed other potential sources for height decrease — including shifts to plant-based diets, increases in weight and the impacts of financial crises.

Gert Stulp, an expert at the University of Groningen’s faculty of behavioral and social sciences, told the Guardian that many theories are speculative at this point, but that it could be eye-opening to investigate further. Scientists maintain, for example, that being taller is associated with longer life-spans, financial stability and career success.

“Perhaps things like the [2007] financial crisis have meant that some children grew up in poorer conditions than in earlier cohorts," he said. "Perhaps inequality has risen: we know inequality affects average height, poorer childhood conditions lead to less growth in the vertical direction."

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In terms of diet, Stulp drew parallels to trends in the United States — where height has plateaued in recent years while weight has increased. According to National Health Statistics Reports, the average heights in 2015-2016 were 69.1 inches (5.77 feet) among American men and 63.7 inches (5.3 feet) among American women — both slightly less than the numbers in 1999-2000.

“Diets may have changed,” Stulp told the Guardian. “Perhaps diets in the last years had fewer nutrients important for growth. This is believed to be the reason why the Americans are shrinking; poorer diets, more calories, but fewer nutrients."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World's tallest people are shrinking in height, study shows

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