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Height in The Netherlands. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world, but they’ve stopped growing.

  • Dutch Dairy Association
  • Leiden University Medical Center

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[Update Sept 2021: A new report of the Dutch Bureau of Statistics CBS reports that the Dutch are still the tallest in the world. However, the generation born in 1980 is the tallest, but later generations are a bit smaller. So the average Dutch is shrinking a bit. End update]. The Dutch have developed into the tallest people in the world. For a century and a half, the Dutch have been growing taller, but this growth has now surprisingly come to a standstill. Have the Dutch reached the maximum human height? Or are there adverse factors that have put the brakes on this secular trend? This ia a translation of an article in Nutrition Magazine. Want to use reference? Use title with: Peters & Vrij Voeding Magazine (1) 2019 pp 20-23
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The Dutch have developed into the tallest people in the world.
For a century and a half, the Dutch have been growing taller, but
this growth has now surprisingly come to a standstill. Have the Dutch
reached the maximum human height? Or are there adverse factors
that have put the brakes on this secular trend?
The Dutch are the tallest
people in the world, but
they’ve stopped growing
Height in the Netherlands
≥ 182,0 cm
180,0-181,9 cm
178,0-179,9 cm
177,0-177,9 cm
177,0 > cm
This article was published in Voeding Magazine 1 – 2019
Changes in the average height of a popu-
lation over time are called a secular trend.
It is generally assumed that the height
increases in the Netherlands since 1858
have been a result of improved hygiene,
overall nutrition and prosperity. In 1858,
the average height in the Netherlands was
163 cm. A century and a half later, this
increased by 21 cm, reaching the current
average height of 184 cm for adult men.
Today’s Dutch women average 171 cm
tall.1 This makes the Dutch the tallest
people in the world. Since 1955, when
the first of five successive National Growth
Studies was conducted, data on human
height in the Netherlands has become
much more nuanced (Figure 1).2
Stagnating growth
Notably, the most recent National Growth
Study (2009) showed a stagnation in growth
in both men and women compared to 1997.
The same stagnation was found when
looking at the secular trend in children.
Figure 2 plots the height dierences
between each of the four National Growth
Studies compared to the first in 1955. Data
from all years indicates a clear increase in
height in both boys and girls as of four
years old. Data from 2009, however,
shows little change compared to 1997,
even though average body weight did
increase in the period 1997-2009.3
Population diversity
The changing makeup of the population
through factors such as immigration does
not explain the stagnating secular trend.
The National Growth Studies only include
data from people with both parents born
in the Netherlands. Only about 4-5% of
third generation Dutch are included in the
study, people who tend to be shorter, on
average, than the indigenous Dutch – but
according to the study’s authors, this
group is too small to justify the stagnating
growth. Both the 1997 and 2009 National
Growth Studies included data from
children of Turkish or Moroccan descent,
in addition to children of indigenous
Dutch descent. In the 1997 study, children
of Turkish or Moroccan descent averaged
about 5 cm shorter than children of
indigenous Dutch descent; among young
adults, the dierence rose to 10 cm.
It is notable that in children of Turkish
or Moroccan descent, a positive secular
trend was seen: about 3 cm among adults
between 1997 and 2009, in contrast to
the trend seen among indigenous Dutch
Regional differences
In the Netherlands, height varies across
several groupings of the population.
The National Growth Studies indicate
that higher educated children and children
with university or college educated
parents tend to be taller than children
whose parents were vocationally trained.
There is also a notable dierence in average
height between the north and south of the
Netherlands (Figure 3). Children from the
south are considerably shorter than children
from the north. Residents of the urban
areas (Western part) in the Netherlands
fall in the middle in this regard. Boys and
girls from the north of the Netherlands
are on average 1.6 cm and 1.4 cm taller,
respectively, than children from the south
of the country. The dierences between
these two regions, however, are gradually
International trends
The secular trends in other Northern
European countries, like Denmark, and
in Germany are gradually slowing down.
In Iceland, the trend remains positive, as
well as in the Dinaric Alps (an area in the
Figure 1. Average human height in each of the five National Growth Studies
1955 1965 1980 1997 2009
Final height (cm)
Study year
Figure 2. Height increases among boys (a) and girls (b) in
the National Growth Studies from 2009 ( ), 1997 ( ),
1980 ( ) and 1965 ( ) compared to 1955
b 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Height difference
from 1955 (cm)
Age (years)
a 12
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Height difference
from 1955 (cm)
Age (years)
former Yugoslavia). Inhabitants of
Montenegro seem to have caught up:
recent data indicates that they average
as tall as or even taller than the Dutch.5
A positive secular trend is generally seen as
a sign of improved health and prosperity,
though there is no direct evidence for this.
The reverse is more likely: a decreasing
secular trend is usually an indicator for
deteriorating health and prosperity.
Decreasing secular trends have been
observed in countries like Lithuania and
Azerbaijan, where height increases began
to plateau during severe economic reces-
sions. Since the beginning of this century,
Lithuania’s economy has begun to bounce
back, and the height of the population is
also increasing again; it is estimated that
this growth will catch up to the country’s
previous peak. What the stagnating trend
means in the Netherlands is dicult to
ascertain. Are “increases in health” now on
the decline in the Netherlands, or have we
reached the optimum height level, and
therefore the maximum?
Maximum height reached?
On average, the Dutch are the tallest
people in the world. In theory, we could
have reached the maximum attainable
average height and that further growth
is not possible. This would mean that the
economic, health and living situation in
the Netherlands is optimal for human
growth. For decades, the Netherlands
Institute for Social Research has been
keeping a quality of life index (the Life
Situation Index, or LSI). This measures the
“progress” of the Netherlands. The LSI is
based on eight indicators: health, sports,
social engagement, culture and leisure,
housing, vacations, mobility and property.
Over the span of the National Growth
Studies up to and including that of 2009,
the LSI was increasing, while the secular
trend plateaued between 1987 and 2009.
The economic situation in the Netherlands
also improved in that period. We must
therefore look beyond general measures
of economic prosperity and health.
“Growth factors”
A study by Grasgruber, et al. in 2014
investigated which determinants can be
decisive in an increase in height.5 Nutrition
emerged as the most important factor,
though it is not the only one, nor can
causality be proven here. To illustrate the
complexities in the relationships between
certain determinants and height, here are
a few examples:
There is a moderately strong positive
correlation between average buying
power and economic growth in a
country, and the average height of
its population.
There is a moderately strong positive
correlation between healthcare
expenditure and the average height
of a population.
There is a strong negative correlation
between child mortality before the
age of five and the average height of a
There is a positive correlation between
social equality in a country and the
average height of its population.
Overweight population
The National Growth Studies indicate not
only that the secular trend has stagnated,
but also that the average weight of the Dutch
population has increased. Overweight
adolescents are as tall as adolescents who
fall in the normal weight range.7 A possible
explanation for the stagnating secular
trend could therefore lie in the increasing
weight of adolescents.
Animal protein
One of the strongest links between human
height and nutrition is that between protein
Figure 4. Relationship between average intake of wheat protein and average adult male height
(r = -0.68; p < 0.001)5
Figure 3. Regional height differences in the 1997 ( )
and 2009 ( ) National Growth Studies. SDS= Standard
Deviation Score
c 0.4
Height SDS
b 0.4
Height SDS
a 0.3
Height SDS
SouthEast Major
North East
Height in the Netherlands
170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185
Average consumption of wheat proteins
(g/day per capita) 2000-2009
Average male height (cm)
Arm Alb Rom Geo
Ita Rus Gre
Mold Ukr
Hun Fra
Irl Svk Nor
Aut Cze
Switz USA
Slo Ger
Lat Est
Bos Neth
intake and height. People in countries
where mainly plant protein is consumed
are shorter than those in countries where
more animal protein is consumed. The
secular trend begins to increase as soon
as plant protein in the average diet is
replaced with animal protein. This change
usually coexists with improved prosperity.6
There is a clear positive link between
height and the consumption of animal
protein, and a negative link between
height and the consumption of plant
protein. Figures 4 and 5 illustrate the
height variations given the consumption
levels of animal or wheat protein.
Top 3 foods with a positive
correlation with height:
1. Dairy products
2. Cheese
3. Pork
Top 3 foods with a negative
correlation with height:
1. Wheat
2. Cornflakes
3. All plant protein5
It is dicult to account for the dierent
ways that plant and animal protein impact
human height. What is clear is that plant
protein is less suitable than animal protein
for stimulating muscle growth. This
dierence can be explained by the more
favorable amino acid composition of
animal and especially milk protein or by
the anabolic properties of, among other
things, the amino acid leucine, which is
more common in milk protein.8 However,
it is still too early to make any definitive
statements in this regard.
A secular trend – changes in average
height over time – is a result of a complex
mix of several factors. A positive secular
trend in a country follows an increase in
nutritional quality, which also comes
with increased prosperity and improved
healthcare. Height is strongly positively
correlated with increased intake of animal
protein, dairy protein in particular.
Worsening diets and increased levels of
overweight individuals are correlated
with height decline. In the last decades,
the Netherlands has focused on a more
plant-based diet. The current government
policy also targets a protein transition to
a more plant-based diet. This can have
consequences for the average height of
the Dutch.
1 Fredriks AM, van Buuren S, Burgmeijer RJ, et al. Continuing positive secular growth change in The Netherlands 1955-1997.
Pediatr Res. 2000;47(3):316-323.
2 Schonbeck Y, Talma H, van Dommelen P, et al. The world's tallest nation has stopped growing taller: the height of Dutch
children from 1955 to 2009. Pediatr Res. 2013;73(3):371-377.
3 Schonbeck Y, Van Buuren, S. Factsheet vijfde Landelijke Groei Studie. 2010.
4 Schonbeck Y, van Dommelen P, HiraSing RA, van Buuren S. Trend in height of Turkish and Moroccan children living in the
Netherlands. PLoS One. 2015;10(5):e0124686.
5 Grasgruber P, Cacek, J., Kalina, T., Sebera, M. The role of nutrition and genetics as key determinants of the positive height
trend. Economics and Human Biology. 2014;15:81-100.
6 Grasgruber P, Sebera M, Hrazdira E, Cacek J, Kalina T. Major correlates of male height: A study of 105 countries. Econ Hum
Biol. 2016;21:172-195.
7 Brener A, Bello R, Lebenthal Y, Yackobovitch-Gavan M, Phillip M, Shalitin S. The Impact of Adolescent Obesity on Adult
Height. Horm Res Paediatr. 2017;88(3-4):237-243.
8 van Vliet S, Burd NA, van Loon LJ. The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein
Consumption. J Nutr. 2015;145(9):1981-1991.
Figure 5. Ratio of high-quality protein intake (milk, pork and fish) to low-quality protein intake (wheat)
in relation to average adult male height between 2000 and 2009 (r = 0.72; p < 0.001)5
There is a clear
positive link
between height and
the consumption of
animal protein
170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185
Ratio between high- and low-quality protein consumption
(milk products, pork meart, fish/wheat) (200-2009)
Average male height (cm)
Male height = 173,86 + (3,25 * Protein ratio)
Belar Switz
Port Fra
Uk Pol
Gre Cro
Ukr Rus
Irl Belg
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Full-text available
The purpose of this study is to explore the main correlates of male height in 105 countries in Europe & overseas, Asia, North Africa and Oceania. Actual data on male height are compared with the average consumption of 28 protein sources (FAOSTAT, 1993-2009) and seven socioeconomic indicators (according to the World Bank, the CIA World Factbook and the United Nations). This comparison identified three fundamental types of diets based on rice, wheat and milk, respectively. The consumption of rice dominates in tropical Asia, where it is accompanied by a very low total protein and energy intake, and one of the shortest statures in the world (∼162-168 cm). Wheat prevails in Muslim countries in North Africa and the Near East, which is where we also observe the highest plant protein consumption in the world and moderately tall statures that do not exceed 174 cm. In taller nations, the intake of protein and energy no longer fundamentally rises, but the consumption of plant proteins markedly decreases at the expense of animal proteins, especially those from dairy. Their highest consumption rates can be found in Northern and Central Europe, with the global peak of male height in the Netherlands (184 cm). In general, when only the complete data from 72 countries were considered, the consumption of protein from the five most correlated foods (r = 0.85) and the human development index (r = 0.84) are most strongly associated with tall statures. A notable finding is the low consumption of the most correlated proteins in Muslim oil superpowers and highly developed countries of East Asia, which could explain their lagging behind Europe in terms of physical stature.
Full-text available
Clinical and consumer market interest is increasingly directed toward the use of plant-based proteins as dietary components aimed at preserving or increasing skeletal muscle mass. However, recent evidence suggests that the ingestion of the plant-based proteins soy and wheat results in a lower muscle protein synthetic response when compared with several animal-based proteins. The possible lower anabolic properties of plant-based protein sources may be attributed to the lower digestibility of plant-based sources, in addition to greater splanchnic extraction and subsequent urea synthesis of plant protein-derived amino acids when compared with the ingestion of animal-based proteins. The latter may be related to the relative lack of specific essential amino acids in plant- as opposed to animal-based proteins. Furthermore, most plant proteins have a relatively low leucine content, which may further reduce their anabolic properties when compared with animal proteins. However, few studies have actually assessed the postprandial muscle protein synthetic response to the ingestion of plant proteins, with soy and wheat protein being the primary sources studied. Despite the proposed lower anabolic properties of plant vs. animal proteins, various strategies may be applied to augment the anabolic properties of plant proteins. These may include the following: 1) fortification of plant-based protein sources with the amino acids methionine, lysine, and/or leucine; 2) selective breeding of plant sources to improve amino acid profile; 3) consumption of greater amounts of plant-based protein sources; or 4) combining the ingestion of multiple protein sources to provide for a more balanced amino acid profile. However, the efficacy of such dietary strategies on postprandial muscle protein synthesis remains to be studied. Future research comparing the anabolic properties of a variety of plant-based proteins should define the preferred protein sources to be used in nutritional interventions to support skeletal muscle mass gain or maintenance in both healthy and clinical populations. © 2015 American Society for Nutrition.
Full-text available
Objectives To study trends in height of Turkish and Moroccan immigrant children living in The Netherlands, to investigate the association between height and background characteristics in these children, and to calculate height-for-age-references data for these groups. Design Nationwide cross-sectional data collection from children aged 0 to 18 years by trained professionals in 1997 and 2009. The study population consisted of 2,822 Turkish 2,779 Moroccan, and 13,705 Dutch origin children in 1997and 2,548 Turkish, 2,594 Moroccan, and 11,255 Dutch origin children in 2009. Main outcome measures: Mean height in cm, and mean height standard deviation scores. Results In 2009, mean height at the age of 18y was similar for Turkish and Moroccan children: 177 cm for boys and 163 cm for girls, which was 2 to 3 cm taller than in 1997. Still, Turkish and Moroccan adolescents were 5.5 cm (boys) to 7 cm (girls) shorter than their Dutch peers. No significant differences were found in mean height standard deviation scores across the educational level of the parents, geographical region, primary language spoken at home, and immigrant generation. Conclusions While the secular height increase in Dutch children came to a halt, the trend in Turkish and Moroccan children living in The Netherlands continued. However, large differences in height between Turkish and Moroccan children and Dutch children remain. We found no association with the background characteristics. We recommend the use of the new growth charts for children of Turkish and Moroccan origin who have a height-for-age below -2SD on the growth chart for Dutch children.
Full-text available
The aim of this study was to identify the most important variables determining current differences in physical stature in Europe and some of its overseas offshoots such as Australia, New Zealand and USA. We collected data on the height of young men from 45 countries and compared them with long-term averages of food consumption from the FAOSTAT database, various development indicators compiled by the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook, and frequencies of several genetic markers. Our analysis demonstrates that the most important factor explaining current differences in stature among nations of European origin is the level of nutrition, especially the ratio between the intake of high-quality proteins from milk products, pork meat and fish, and low-quality proteins from wheat. Possible genetic factors such as the distribution of Y haplogroup I-M170, combined frequencies of Y haplogroups I-M170 and R1b-U106, or the phenotypic distribution of lactose tolerance emerge as comparably important, but the available data are more limited. Moderately significant positive correlations were also found with GDP per capita, health expenditure and partly with the level of urbanization that influences male stature in Western Europe. In contrast, male height correlated inversely with children's mortality and social inequality (Gini index). These results could inspire social and nutritional guidelines that would lead to the optimization of physical growth in children and maximization of the genetic potential, both at the individual and national level.
Full-text available
Background: Records show that mean height in The Netherlands has increased since 1858. This study looks at whether this trend in the world's tallest nation is continuing. We consider the influence of the geographical region, and of the child and parental education, on changes in height. Methods: We compared the height of young Dutch people aged 0-21 y as determined on the basis of the growth study of 2009, with the height data from growth studies conducted in 1955, 1965, 1980, and 1997. Results: The analysis sample included 5,811 boys and 6,194 girls. Height by age was the same as in 1997. Mean final height was 183.8 cm (SD = 7.1 cm) in boys and 170.7 cm (SD = 6.3 cm) in girls. The educational levels of both children and their parents are positively correlated with mean height. Since 1997, differences between geographical regions have decreased but not vanished, with the northern population being the tallest. Conclusion: The world's tallest population has stopped growing taller after a period of 150 y, the cause of which is unclear. The Dutch may have reached the optimal height distribution. Alternatively, growth-promoting environmental factors may have stabilized in the past decade, preventing the population from attaining its full growth potential.
Background: Childhood obesity is a major health concern. Excess adiposity during childhood affects growth and puberty. Our aim was to assess whether genetic adult height is compromised in adolescents with obesity. Methods: In a retrospective study of 190 obese patients followed at our Pediatric Endocrinology Institute, adult height and delta height (the difference between adult height and mid-parental height) were compared to those of 150 healthy age-matched normal-weight controls. Review of medical files yielded the relevant clinical and anthropometric data of patients, controls, and parents. Results: Of the 190 obese adolescents, 150 were morbidly obese. The median adult height of morbidly obese males was 174.3 cm, of obese males 174 cm, and of normal-weight males 176 cm (p = 0.025). Delta height of morbidly obese males was -0.5 cm, of obese males -0.8 cm, and of normal-weight males, 3 cm (p < 0.0001). The median adult height of morbidly obese females was 161.3 cm, of obese females 162.8 cm, and of normal-weight females 162 cm (p = 0.37). Delta height of morbidly obese females was -1.85 cm, of obese females -0.95 cm, and of normal-weight females 0.7 cm (p = 0.019). Impairment of potential genetic height was not associated with obesity-related comorbidities. Conclusion: Adolescents with obesity showed impairment of potential genetic adult height as compared to that of normal-weight subjects.
Since 1858, an increase of mean stature has been observed in the Netherlands, reflecting the improving nutritional, hygienic, and health status of the population. In this study, stature, weight, and pubertal development of Dutch youth, derived from four consecutive nationwide cross-sectional growth studies during the past 42 y, are compared to assess the size and rate of the secular growth change. Data on length, height, weight, head circumfer- ence, sexual maturation, and demographics of 14 500 boys and girls of Dutch origin in the age range 0 -20 y were collected in 1996 and 1997. Growth references for height and weight were constructed with a method that summarizes the distribution by three smooth curves representing skewness (L curve), the median (M curve), and coefficient of variation (S curve). The relationship between height and demographic variables was assessed by multivariate analysis. Reference curves for menarche and sec- ondary sex characteristics were estimated by a generalized addi- tive model using a logit transformation. A positive secular growth change has been present in the past 42 y for children, adolescents, and young adults of Dutch origin, although at a slower rate in the last 17 y. Height differences according to region, educational level of child and parents, and family size have remained. In girls, median age at menarche has decreased by 6 mo during the past four decades to 13.15 y. Environmental conditions have been favorable for many decades in the Nether- lands, and the positive secular change in height has not yet come to a halt, in contrast to Scandinavian countries. Main contributors to the increase in height may be improved nutrition, child health, and hygiene, and a reduction of family size. (Pediatr Res 47: 316-323, 2000)
Factsheet vijfde Landelijke Groei Studie
  • Y Schonbeck
  • S Van Buuren
Schonbeck Y, Van Buuren, S. Factsheet vijfde Landelijke Groei Studie. 2010.