The Dutch, world champions in size, are shrinking

published on Monday, September 20, 2021 at 10:38 a.m.

They are the largest in the world … but they are getting smaller: the generation of Dutch born in 2001 is smaller than that born in 1980, a study conducted by the Central Statistical Office (CBS) said on Friday.

A 19-year-old Dutch man measures today on average 182.9 cm, compared to 183.9 cm for a man born in 1980. A 19-year-old Dutch woman measures on average 169.3 cm against 170.7 cm for those born in 1980.

Different factors, including immigration and diet, are likely behind the change in size, which reverses a century and a half of rapid growth in the country, the study said.

“Over the past century we have grown bigger and bigger, but since 1980 the growth has stopped,” the study noted.

“Men born in 2001 lost an average of 1 centimeter compared to the 1980 cohort, and women an average of 1.4 centimeters.”

But all is not lost.

“The Netherlands remains the largest nation in the world,” CBS said in a statement.

Dutch men are ahead of those from Montenegro who come in second, followed by Estonia and Bosnia. Dutch women are taller than those in Montenegro, Denmark and Iceland, CBS said, citing figures from a Global Network of Health Scientists (NCD-RisC).

The smaller men are found in East Timor, while the smaller women are located in Guatemala.

– ‘Bad eating habits’ –

The reasons behind this shrinkage are not entirely clear.

One factor is, according to the study, immigration, “especially of people of non-Western origin”, which tend to be smaller.

But growth has also “stagnated” among the Dutch whose parents and grandparents were born in the Netherlands, she says. Men have not grown since the 1980s while there is a “downward trend” among women.

This could be explained by the “biological limit” but is also probably related to “poor eating habits and excessive energy intake during the growing season”.

The study is based on self-measurements of 719,000 Dutch people aged 19 to 60.

The Dutch weren’t always so tall, however.

At the start of the 19th century, they were small by European standards, not starting to rise in the rankings until the 1840s.

A century ago, the tallest men were even in the United States or Scandinavia. It wasn’t until the generation born in the late 1950s that the Dutch finally won the title.

The reasons for the size of the Dutch remain unclear.

A popular myth that Dutch cheese lovers are great because they consume a lot of dairy products has been deconstructed by scientists.

Greater prosperity as well as “natural selection in which taller men and women had more children than smaller couples” is probably the real reason, the CBS said.

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