Why is it that the Dutch tower over us?

The China Post - - LIFE - BY RICHARD ING­HAM

The Nether­lands is the land of gi­ants: on av­er­age, its women stand al­most 1.71 me­ters (5.6 feet) tall, and its men 1.84 me­ters.

But how the Dutch be­came the world’s tallest peo­ple has been some­what of a mys­tery.

Af­ter all, two cen­turies ago they were renowned for be­ing among the short­est. What hap­pened since then?

A popular ex­pla­na­tion is nu­tri­tion — a calo­rie-stuffed diet rich in meat and dairy prod­ucts.

But that can’t be the whole story, ex­perts say.

Other Euro­pean coun­tries, too, have en­joyed sim­i­lar pros­per­ity and a rise in living stan­dards, yet their cit­i­zens have not shot sky­wards as much.

The av­er­age male height in the Nether­lands has gained 20 cen­time­ters in the last 150 years, ac- cord­ing to mil­i­tary records.

By com­par­i­son, the height of the av­er­age Amer­i­can man has risen a mere six cen­time­ters over the same pe­riod.

Re­searchers led by Gert Stulp, a spe­cial­ist in pop­u­la­tion health at the Lon­don School of Hy­giene and Trop­i­cal Medicine, combed a Dutch data­base for clues.

Called Life­Lines, the record con­tains ex­haus­tive de­tail about the lives and health of more than 94,500 peo­ple who lived in the north­ern the Nether­lands from 1935 to 1967.

In this three-decade snap­shot, the peo­ple who had the most chil­dren were tall men, and women of av­er­age height, the team found.

For ex­am­ple, the most fer­tile men were 7 cen­time­ters above the av­er­age height. Sta­tis­ti­cally, they had 0.24 more chil­dren on av­er­age than the least fer­tile men, who were about 14 cen­time­ters be­low the av­er­age height.

Com­pared to coun­ter­parts in other coun­tries where they of­ten tended to have fewer chil­dren, taller women also re­pro­duced more in the Nether­lands.

Many post­poned hav­ing chil­dren un­til af­ter their stud­ies, but once they forged a suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ship, of­ten had a large fam­ily.

The study did not in­volve ge­netic testing, but con­cluded from the ob­ser­va­tions that nat­u­ral se­lec­tion must have played a part: with time, more and more Dutch started sport­ing tall genes.

“Nat­u­ral se­lec­tion in ad­di­tion to good en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions may help ex­plain why the Dutch are so tall,” said the study pub­lished Wed­nes­day in the Royal So­ci­ety jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings B.

Tall, Tallest, Taller

“Height

is

very

her­i­ta­ble — taller par­ents tend to have some­what taller chil­dren than shorter par­ents,” Stulp told AFP by email.

“Be­cause taller in­di­vid­u­als would have more off­spring in the next gen­er­a­tion who would be taller, the av­er­age height in that gen­er­a­tion would a bit taller on av­er­age than the pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tion, if all else is equal.”

There seems to be a cul­tural pref­er­ence as well.

Stulp pointed to fig­ures show­ing that, in the United States, shorter women and men of av­er­age height have the most re­pro­duc­tive suc­cess.

“There is much vari­a­tion in what men and women want,” he said.

“When it comes to choos­ing a mate, height tends to have (only) a small ef­fect, which is not very sur­pris­ing given the many other, more im­por­tant, traits peo­ple value in their mate.”

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