Estonians are the third tallest people on the planet

According to the largest ever study of height around the world, Estonian men and women are the third tallest people on Earth.

The research, led by scientists from the Imperial College London and using data from most countries in the world, tracked height among young adult men and women between 1914 and 2014.

The top four tallest countries for men are the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia and Latvia. The top four tallest countries for women are Latvia, the Netherlands, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

In 1914, the Estonian women had an average height of 157cm, while in 2014 it was 169cm. The average height of Estonian men was 167cm hundred years ago, while in 2014 it was 180cm.

Men from East Timor were the smallest in the world in 2014, with an average height of 160cm; while the smallest women were from Guatemala, with an average height of 149cm.

The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets)

  1. Netherlands (12)
  2. Belgium (33)
  3. Estonia (4)
  4. Latvia (13)
  5. Denmark (9)
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
  7. Croatia (22)
  8. Serbia (30)
  9. Iceland (6)
  10. Czech Republic (24)

The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets)

  1. Latvia (28)
  2. Netherlands (38)
  3. Estonia (16)
  4. Czech Republic (69)
  5. Serbia (93)
  6. Slovakia (26)
  7. Denmark (11)
  8. Lithuania (41)
  9. Belarus (42)
  10. Ukraine (43)

Being tall = success?

“How tall we grow is strongly influenced by nutrition and environmental factors, although an individual’s genetic factors may also play a role. Children and adolescents who are better nourished and live in better environments tend to be taller, and height may even be influenced by a mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy. It has lifelong consequences for health and even education and earnings,” the scientists said in the study, adding that some research suggests people who are taller tend to live longer, gain a better education and even earn more.

“This study gives us a picture of the health of nations over the past century, and reveals the average height of some nations may even be shrinking while others continue to grow taller. This confirms we urgently need to address children and adolescents’ environment and nutrition on a global scale, and ensure we’re giving the world’s children the best possible start in life,” the lead researcher, Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College, said.

However, the research also said that being tall may carry some health risks, as studies have linked height to a greater risk of certain cancers including ovarian and prostate.

The difference between the tallest and shortest countries in the world in 2014 was about 23cm for men – an increase of 4cm on the height gap in 1914. The height difference between the world’s tallest and shortest countries for women has remained the same across the century, at about 20cm.

The height difference between men and women has on average remained largely unchanged over 100 years – the average height gap was about 11cm in 1914 and 12cm in 2014.

The research revealed that South Korean women and Iranian men have shown the biggest increases in height over the past 100 years.

Europeans are the tallest

Overall, the top ten tallest nations in 2014 for men and women were dominated by European countries, and featured no English-speaking nation. Australian men were the only non-European nationality in the top 25 tallest in the world.

“Our study also shows the English-speaking world, especially the USA, is falling behind other high-income nations in Europe and Asia Pacific. Together with the poor performance of these countries in terms of obesity, this emphasises the need for more effective policies towards healthy nutrition throughout life,” Ezzati said.

The research team included almost 800 scientists and was conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation.

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Cover: Estonians enjoying summer (the photo is illustrative/photo by Sven Zacek/EAS)

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About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and Politics & Society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.