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Why Dutch are so tall?

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Posted April 13, 2015

Dutch men used to be relatively short one hundred fifty years ago. However, situation changed dramatically and now Dutch population became tallest on earth. How this remarkable leap forward happened?

Picture: “Once in a Bubble Blue” by Diego da Silva, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Picture: “Once in a Bubble Blue” by Diego da Silva, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There is little doubt that an important role was played by better nutrition and health care. New study carried out by Gert Stulp and his colleagues suggests that average height women and men who were taller than average tend to have more offspring and helped to increase average height of the Dutch population.

“In the mid-eighteenth century, the average height of Dutch (military) men was approximately 165 cm. This was well below the average for other European populations, and very much shorter than the average height of men in the United States, who towered over the Dutch by 5 – 8 cm,” authors of the study published on the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B write.

Interestingly, average height of this small European nation has increased by twenty centimetres since then and helped them to leave behind all other nations in the world. In order, to find out why this process occurred Gert Stulp at the University of Groningen and his colleagues analyzed large dataset collected in the framework of Lifelines, one of the most valuable multidimensional cohort studies and biobanks in the world. They analyzed a sample of nearly one hundred thousand individuals residing in the northern Ireland.

“Overall then, taller than average men in our sample experienced higher fertility, partly because they were more likely to be in a (current) relationship, and also because they were able to produce more offspring within those relationships than shorter men, despite beginning their reproductive careers later,” the researchers report.

In case of females the highest reproductive success was achieved by women having an average weight. Interestingly, these results differ from the results observed in the United States recently. It was found that “shorter women had higher reproductive success than their taller counterparts, while average height men experienced greater reproductive success than taller or shorter men.”

Although, authors are not able to strictly confirm whether observed correlations are based on genetic differences, available knowledge suggests that it should be the case. “The largest part of the variation in human height (approx. 80%) in Western populations is due to genetic differences between individuals, as shown using both family designs, as well as molecular genetic information on genetic variation within families,” they say.

Article: Stulp G., Barrett L., Tropf F.C., Mills M., 2015, Does natural selection favour taller stature among the tallest people on earth? Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20150211. Source link.

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