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It may come as no surprise that we are taller than our ancestors, but a recent study published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers reveals that the average height for males has increased in the last century by 11 centimeters - nearly 4.5 inches.
Professor Timothy J. Hatton, from the University of Essex in the UK and the Research School of Economics at Australian National University in Canberra, examined data from a variety of sources in order to arrive at his results.
For the most modern decades, he took data from cross sectional surveys, but his information from the earlier years was taken from military conscripts and recruits. He notes that the study only focused on men since historical data for women's heights is constrained by limited records.
Prof. Hatton examined data for the average height of male 21-year-olds from fifteen European countries during the years of 1870 to 1980, to arrive at the conclusion that on average, men are 11 cm taller now.
Other results show that infant mortality rates fell from an average of 178 per 1,000 in the early 1870s to 120 per 1,000 during 1911-1915. In the early 1950s, these rates then fell dramatically to 41, eventually landing at only 14 in the late 1970s.
A surprising finding reveals that during the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression - predating the implementation of major breakthroughs in modern medicine and widespread health services - there was a "distinct quickening" in male height increases in both northern and middle European countries.
A possible reason for the increased male height and decreased infant mortality trends, says Prof. Hatton, is that there was a falling trend in fertility at the time, and smaller family sizes have been linked with increasing height.
Prof. Hatton adds:
"Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations. The evidence suggests that the improving disease environment, as reflected in the fall in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height."
Other factors that may have spurred the increase in male height include:
Additionally, the study indicates that transport infrastructure also contributed to health and height, particularly during the prewar years.
Prof. Hatton concludes his study by noting that there are other important contributing factors, which are not easily measured, such as medical advances and practices, as well as better parental knowledge of nutrition and hygiene for children.
Written by Marie Ellis
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
How have Europeans grown so tall? Timothy J. Hatton, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/oep/gpt030, published online 1 September 2013.
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