You are what you eat – or so the saying goes. But does that include how tall you become? While genetics can play a major role in determining your height, a new global study has revealed that poor nutrition during school years may have created a 20cm height gap across nations. (1)
The study by the Imperial College London, analyzed 65 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 across 193 countries. The results revealed height and weight as indicators of health and quality of diet. The outcomes varied significantly. (2)
Researchers noted the average height of a 19 year-old girl in Guatemala and Bangladesh – nations with the shortest girls – is the same as an 11-year-old girl in the Netherlands – the country with the tallest girls.
Similarly, the average height of a 19 year-old boy in Laos and Timor-Leste – the countries with the shortest boys – is the same as a 13 year-old boy in the Netherlands – the country with the tallest boys.
Nutrition, Health And Height
About 60-80 percent of a person’s height is determined by genetic factors, whereas 20-40 percent can be attributed to environmental effects, mainly nutrition. (3)
While genetic factors may be out of our control, good diet and nutrition is essential in maintaining well-being. A protein-rich diet can play an important role in bone health and tissue repair, while the process of bone formation requires a continual intake of other nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D. (4)
Research has also shown that an intake of probiotics may increase growth rates in children. (5)
Poor Nutrition Making Kids Shorter
The results of the London study noted a lack of good quality sustenance in childhood nutrition. This may hinder growth levels and lead to a rise in obesity, thus affecting a child’s health and wellbeing throughout their lifetime.
Unsurprisingly, countries with higher levels of poverty had the shortest children, including some African nations, where height measurements stagnated or reduced during the periods of time when data was collected.
The largest improvements were recorded in emerging economies such as South Korea, China and parts of Southeast Asia. (2)
Body Mass Index (BMI)
The team of international researchers also studied children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) which measures whether a person has a healthy weight to height ratio. Analysis found 19 year-olds from the USA, Pacific Islands, Middle East and New Zealand had the highest BMI, while India and Bangladesh were amongst the lowest.
The difference between the lightest and the heaviest BMIs in the study was around 9 units of BMI (equivalent to around 25 kg of weight).The results also showed children up to five years had a healthy BMI range. However, once school age was reached, children in some countries gained too much weight against the level of height needed for healthy growth potential. The most important reason for this was a lack of adequate and healthy nutrition in school years.
The availability of nutritious foods will help children grow taller without gaining excessive weight for their height, producing lifelong benefits for their health and wellbeing. (6)
As this research shows – You really are what you eat!