We’re still some way off from needing to raise the ceilings, but according to a comprehensive global study, the average Maltese man is 10 centimetres taller today than 100 years ago.
Research published in the journal eLife compared the average height of people born in 1896 and 1996, across 187 countries and found that with an average height today of 174cm, Maltese men are now ranked in 72nd place globally, compared to 102nd a century ago.
Women on the island have experienced their own growth spurt and are now also ranked 72nd in the world, having leapt from 130th place. Women’s average height of 160cm today is more than 11cm taller than in 1896.
According to paediatrician Victor Grech, the increase in average height was largely due to improvements in mothers’ nutrition and health during pregnancy, which is known to have an effect on children’s heights. “The gene pool may also have changed slightly over the years with the influx of foreigners,” he told the Times of Malta. “Years of people from more northern latitudes fathering children here is going to have an effect on the average.”
Globally, however, Maltese people still lag some way below the world’s tallest: Dutch men and Latvian women. According to the study, the average Dutchman is now 183cm tall, while the average Latvian woman reaches 170cm.
And while the increase in average height is noticeable, the biggest growth spurts were among Iranian men and South Korean women, who saw their height increase by an average of more than 16cm and 20cm.
At the other end of the table, men in East Timor and women in Guatemala are the world’s shortest.
According to the authors of the study, the rise in height seems to have stopped early in South Asia and reversed in Africa, reversing or diminishing Africa’s earlier advantage over Asia.
The study also noted taller people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease, though they are at a greater risk of certain cancers.
The paper – A Century of Trends in Adult Human Height – was put together by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration in association with the World Health Organisation.
The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (the 1914 ranking is 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)
72. Malta (102) [source]