The world is getting taller – but not so much in South Africa


A new global study has shown that the human race has gotten taller over the past 100 years – though South Africans have shown some of the least change.

The study, conducted by Imperial College in London, looked at average height measurements for men and women in 1914, and compared it to data from 2014.

The data drew on almost 1500 sources, including government health studies and military data, to model changes in the height of 18-year-olds across 200 countries over 100 years from 1914

The research found that average height as increased globally, though there were dramatic differences, depending on the region.

Specifically, there were low differences in sub-Saharan Africa, and large differences in Asian nations and European countries.

According to the researchers, the global trend of increased height has been attributed to improvements in nutrition, hygiene and healthcare, downplaying the role of genetics when looking at an average.

Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, while seeing an improvement in the listed criteria, remains one of the regions worse off in terms of nutrition and health.

Height in South Africa

South African men have shown the third lowest rate of growth in the world, having increased height by a mere 1.4 cm over the past 100 years. South African women fared better, but still relatively lower, adding 3.1 cm.

South Africa has the 76th shortest average height for women in the world (158 cm, up from 154.9 cm in 1914), while South African men are quite short, ranked 47th overall for the average height of 166.7 cm (up from 165.3 cm in 1914).

Dutch men, and Latvian women are now the tallest people in the world at 182.5 cm and 169.8 cm – in 1914, the title was held by Swedish men and women at 171.9 cm and 160.3 cm.

The shortest men and women are in East Timor (159.8 cm) and Guatemala (149.4 cm), respectively – in 1914, it was Lao men (152.9 cm), though Guatemalan women (140.3 cm).

The tables below show which countries now have the tallest and shortest people in the world, and which countries have shown the biggest and smallest changes in height over the past 100 years.

Countries with the tallest and shortest men and women

Country 2014 Male Height (cm) Country 2014 Female Height (cm)
Netherlands 182.5 Latvia 169.8
Belgium 181.7 Estonia 168.7
Estonia 170.9 Netherlands 168.7
Denmark 170.0 Czech Republic 168.5
Latvia 169.4 Serbia 167.7
Bosnia and Herzegovina 168.4 Slovakia 167.5
Croatia 168.1 Denmark 167.2
Serbia 167.4 Lithuania 166.6
Iceland 170.5 Ukraine 166.3
Czech Republic 168.0 Belarus 166.3
Timor-Leste 159.8 Guatemala 149.4
Yemen 159.9 Philippines 149.6
Lao PDR 160.5 Bangladesh 150.8
Madagascar 161.5 Nepal 150.9
Malawi 162.2 Madagascar 151.2
Nepal 162.3 Timor-Leste 151.2
Rwanda 162.7 Marshall Islands 151.3
Marshall islands 162.8 Lao PDR 151.3
Philippines 163.2 India 152.6
Cambodia 163.3 Indonesia 152.8

Countries with the biggest and smallest change in height: 1914 – 2014

Country Male Height change (cm) Country Female Height change (cm)
Biggest change
Iran +16.5 South Korea +20.1
Greenland +15.4 Japan +16.0
South Korea +15.1 Czech Republic +15.7
Greece +14.8 Serbia +15.7
Japan +14.6 Croatia +15.5
Belgium +14.5 Greenland +14.5
Spain +14.3 Greece +14.3
Portugal +13.9 Latvia +14.3
China +13.9 Poland +14.1
Turkey +13.9 Netherlands +13.9
Smallest change
Marshall Islands +0.5 Tuvalu +1.5
Pakistan +1.2 Madagascar +1.5
South Africa +1.4 Philippines +1.7
Mauritania +1.8 Niger +2.0
Kiribati +2.4 Namibia +2.0
Namibia +2.8 Nauru +2.2
Rwanda +2.8 Kenya +2.3
Madagascar +2.8 Rwanda +2.5
India +2.9 Marshall Islands +2.6
Malawi +3.0 Lesotho +2.6


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