The 5 Tallest and Shortest Countries -- And Why the U.S. Isn't on the List

Childhood nutrition may be a reason for Americans getting shorter.
New research shows that America is falling "short" in height gains. (Image: Vstock LLC/VStock/Getty Images)

Tall, dark and handsome,” an old Hollywood adage describing the most desired man, may be a scientific reality. As a new study shows that tall height is becoming even more of a rarity — at least in America.

The study published in the journal of eLife shows that Americans are getting "shorter" while other countries in the world continue growing to new vertical limits.

18.6 million people, from 200 different countries, born between 1896 and 1996 were analyzed. The results showed that as a planet we are growing taller — mainly due to better nutrition, health and advances in medicine — but the height ranges vary from country to country. And the USA ain't lookin’ so good.

In the past century, people from central and southern Europe and Asia have grown taller, while there was little height gain from parts of Africa and South East Asia. America also had little height gain, but what’s especially noteworthy is that compared to the rest of the world, and our historical records, we aren’t growing at the “rapid” rate we used to.

For example, 100 years ago American men ranked as the third tallest in the world (5 feet 7 inches), now they’re coming in 37th place (5 feet 10 inches). In that same vein, American women stood as fourth tallest in the world (5 feet 3 inches), and now they stand as the 42nd tallest (5 feet 4 inches).

However, what we’ve lost in height we’ve gained in width. The study notes Americans have increased a great deal in “body mass index”.

Whose the tallest of them all? Though not the tallest country, South Korean women made the tallest gains in height.

Why Is America Falling "Short"?

So why aren't we keeping up with the rest of the world? What gives? Our children’s diet may be to blame.

Although height is an inheritable trait, the study notes that childhood nutrition has an impact on height in adulthood. This certainly makes sense considering that U.S. childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and in 2012, more than one of three children and adolescents were either overweight or obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Majid Ezzati, professor of medicine at Imperial College, which conducted the study, recent immigration for Latin Americans (which in general are shorter) are not believed to be the culprit for Americans "leveling off." "Immigration is one hypothesis, but the quality and equity of nutrition in America is the cause,” says Ezzati.

Being Tall Is a Sign of Good Health

If you're a bean pole, there's good news as height is associated with better health such as longevity and lowering risk of diabetes and dementia. Also, taller women are less likely to have complications during birth.

Being tall is also a sign of intelligence and making more money. For example, men with “tall” genes earn about $4,175 more annually than those who don’t.

In Case You’re Wondering, Here Are the Tallest (and Shortest) Countries in the World:

Countries with tallest men:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Belgium
  3. Estonia
  4. Latvia
  5. Denmark

Countries with tallest women:

  1. Latvia
  2. Netherlands
  3. Estonia
  4. Czech Republic
  5. Serbia

Countries with the shortest men:

  1. Timor-Leste
  2. Yemen
  3. Laos
  4. Madagascar
  5. Malawi

Countries with shortest women:

  1. Guatemala
  2. Philippines
  3. Bangladesh
  4. Nepal
  5. Timor-Leste

What Do YOU Think?

Are you surprised by these results? Will you pay more attention to your child's nutrition? What height do you find the most attractive or healthy looking (for a man or woman)?

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