HEALTH

Shortest women in world are Guatemalan, tallest men are Dutch, study finds

Four Guatemalan women walking down a paved highway near Cantel, Guatemala. (Photo by Independent Picture Service/UIG via Getty Images)

Four Guatemalan women walking down a paved highway near Cantel, Guatemala. (Photo by Independent Picture Service/UIG via Getty Images)  (This content is subject to copyright.)

If you’re putting together the perfect basketball team, you might consider packing it with players from the Netherlands and Latvia. According to a recent study, they are the tallest people on earth. 

But if you're the coach of the Guatemalan national team – especially on the women's side – you may as well just take your ball and go home.

The study of heights around the world included almost 800 scientists from the Imperial College London, and was conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization, drawing on data from a wide range of sources, including military conscription, health and nutrition population surveys and epidemiological studies.

The material was used to generate height information for 18-year-olds in 1914 who were born in 1896, 18-year-olds in 2014 who were born in 1996, and everybody in between.

According to the study, the most diminutive women in the world live in Guatemala – standing, we think, at just 4’10”. The nickname for a woman from that Central American nation is "Chapina." Appropriately enough, if you change one letter to make it "chapita," you get "shorty."

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Despite being among the tallest people at the beginning of the century, Americans have largely stopped growing. Even with some of the highest incomes, countries such as the U.S., the UK, Finland and Japan have all plateaued in terms of height. Spain, Italy as well as various Latin American countries are still growing. Literally.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East have all seen a sharp decline in their average height over the past 30 to 40 years.

"This study gives us a picture of the health of nations over the past century and reveals the average height of some nations may even be shrinking while others continue to grow taller. This confirms we urgently need to address children's and adolescents' environment and nutrition on a global scale, and ensure we're giving the world's children the best possible start in life,” professor and lead researcher Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health told the Imperial College News.

He added, "Our study also shows the English-speaking world, especially the U.S., is falling behind other high-income nations in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Together with the poor performance of these countries in terms of obesity, this emphasizes the need for more effective policies towards healthy nutrition throughout life."

The tallest men in the world are the Dutch, who measure 5' 11" on average. The Netherlands are followed by Belgium, Estonia and Latvia. 

The tallest women are the Latvians, at 5' 6". They're followed by the Netherlands, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

The shortest men hail from East Timor (5' 2"), but not far above them are men from Yemen, Laos, Madagascar and Malawi. 

The shortest women are Guatemalans, followed by those from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor.

How tall people grow is largely based on a combination of diet, environment and genetics.

Children who are better nourished and live in healthy environments are generally taller, tend to live longer, make a higher income and often have a better education.

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