Better nutrition among European males has seen a growth in their average height of up to 11 centimeters (4 21/64 inches) since the 1870s, a new study has shown.
The paper, titled “How have Europeans grown so tall?” published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, looked at data from sources including military records and modern population surveys from the 1870s to 1980 in 15 European countries.
“Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations,” the introduction states.
The height increase is ascribed to a “dramatic improvement in health” and that there was “some acceleration in the period spanning the two world wars and the Great Depression.
“The evidence suggests that the most important proximate source of increasing height was the improving disease environment as reflected by the fall in infant mortality.
“Rising income and education and falling family size had more modest effects. Improvements in health care are hard to identify, and the effects of welfare state spending seem to have been small” as these increased “largely predates the modern medicine and national health services.”
There was also a marked divide between North and South Europe, the paper continued.
“In southern Europe height increased fastest in the postwar period. There is evidence of a concave health production function, but the effects of inequality are not robust.
“Education had a positive effect on height and family size a negative effect, consistent with the quality-quantity trade-off.
“The evidence suggests that improvements in the disease environment, as reflected in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height.
“This accounts for much of the acceleration during the transwar period. Social services and health systems made a modest contribution to the overall increase in height.
“One reason is that education and expenditure on social services seem to be substitutes. Transport infrastructure also contributed to health and height, especially in the prewar era.
“But a substantial part of the overall upwards trend in height is not explained—in the absence of infant mortality, about a half.
“There are other important factors that are not easily measured, including medical advances and practices, and especially better parental knowledge of the effects of nutrition and hygiene on children’s health.”