Why the Dutch are so tall?

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Why are the Dutch so tall? To answer this question, a research published this week on the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Olivier Richters, Dutch bodybuilder (219cm)

 Olivier Richters, Dutch bodybuilder (219cm)

Why are the Dutch so tall? To answer this question, a research published this week on the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

THE TALLEST ONES
First of all, Dutch people are actually the tallest population in the world: women have an average height of 171cm, while men 184cm.
Second of all, the whole world population has gained some cm of height in the last 150 years, thanks to diet (a larger quantity of food and the inclusion of meat and dairy) and their improved hygienic conditions.
But though in the United States people have grown 6cm, the Dutch are nowadays 20cm taller.
What is the variable that counted in the Netherlans?
Genetists would tell you that at least 180 genes influence our height, but environment plays its important role as well: the population in Japane is among the smallest people in the world; yet the children of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii grew much taller than their parents.

The young (and skilled) researcher dr. Gert Stulp, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, accurately checked a database with life and health information about 95.000 Dutch people, from 1935 to 1967.
What happened in those years?
As we said, a more caloric diet, richer in dairy first of all, plus an easier access to health care.

TALL = HANDSOME
But the results of this research go even further: the couple with more children were composed by taller men and average height women.
In Italy there is a saying, “altezza mezza bellezza“, which means that height contributes for a half to the beauty of a person. And it seems true: above average heigh is associated with better health, better education and higher income. Therefore tall men are more attractive.
On the other hand, taller women seem to have smaller chances of finding a partner, while shorter women experience higher risk of losing their child.

DUTCH PECULIARITY
Western countries share this attitude toward tall men, so why doesn’t it work everywhere the same?
Stulp gives an hypothesis off the records: some environment factors may pull in the opposite direction of diet. Shorter women in the United States, for example, have more children and, since we tend to look for a partner who has similar height than ours, it becomes more difficult to taller men to find a mate and therefore spread their DNA.
Besides, females are the ones that brood eggs: in order to be less visible and protected, they are usually smaller and sober colored.
A role may be played by culture too: in a patriarchal society, women are usually considered inferior and therefore men would choose smaller partners.

NATURAL SELECTION
So, a recap to the Dutch magic spell: diet and hygienics improvements made people taller; taller men are perceived more attractive; taller men generally prefer average height women; average height women have easier pregnancies and childbirths. All these variables make more likely that a characteristic (height) get passed to the next generation.

And this selection is still working progress. In the 18th century, Americans were 5 to 8 cm taller than the Dutch. Nowadays they lost their record gaining another one: they are the fattest.

Let’s wait and see what future will bring.