Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 May

The Connection Between Height and Health

growingboyHeight has historically been regarded as a marker of health and robustness. We seem to implicitly accept that bigger is indeed better, even if we don’t want to admit it. On average, tall people attain more professional success and make more money, the taller presidential candidate almost always wins, and women are more attracted to tall men. On a very visceral level, the taller person is more physically imposing. After all, who would you rather fight – the dude with a long reach raining punches from up high or the shorter guy with stubby arms who has to work his way inside your guard (although Mike Tyson did pretty well for himself with such “limitations”)? And on that note, who would you prefer as a mate – the physically imposing specimen or the shorter, presumably weaker male?

We in the Primal health community are quick to point out that agriculture reduced physical stature. Generally speaking, bone records indicate that Paleolithic (and, to a lesser extent, Mesolithic) humans were taller than humans living immediately after the advent of agriculture. Multiple sources exist, so let’s take a look at a couple of them before moving on:

According to one study on remains of early Europeans, prior to 16,000 BC, European males stood 179 cm tall, or 5’10.5″, and females stood 158 cm, or 5’2″. Between 8,000 to 6,600 BC, average heights had dropped to 166 cm for males. Heights fell even further in Neolithic populations, dropping down to 164 cm for males and 150 cm for females, only reaching and surpassing 170 cm at the end of the 19th century.

Another source found that Paleolithic humans living between 30,000 and 9,000 BC ran almost 5’10”, which is close to the average modern American male’s height. After agriculture was fully adopted, male height dropped to 161 cm, or 5’5.4″. Females went from 166.5 cm to 154.3 cm under the same parameters.

We know these changes to height also reflected worsened health, because with shortness came dental pathologies like caries, plaque, and decay, signs of arrested growth indicating instances of severe malnutrition, and skull abnormalities that stem from iron deficiency. People got shorter, sicker, and less healthy. Height wasn’t a cause of poor health, of course, but it was an indicator.

And that’s where the statistic of height shines – as an indicator. On a large scale, height increases indicate improved nutritional or socioeconomic status, while decreases indicate poor nutrition, famine, war, or economic hardship. Thus, as a population increases in height, it’s safe to assume that its people are either eating better, making more money, or both. If a population shows decreasing height (or stagnation, which the US is showing), we surmise that something is amiss. There exists no better modern day example of height following health than with North and South Korea. Several studies show that South Koreans are taller than their counterparts to the north. Since the two populations are so closely related, genetic differences can’t explain the discrepancy; it’s got to be environment, especially childhood nutrition. North Koreans are famously malnourished, and the height discrepancy between North and South – about three or four inches on average – is similar to the height discrepancy observed between Paleolithic and Neolithic populations.

There are numerous other examples. Up until the late 1800s, Northern Plains Indian tribes were the tallest people in the world, standing over 172 cm (or about 5’8″) and subsisting on a nourishing diet of wild game, fish, berries, and native plants. That height advantage disappeared with reservation life, of course. Fry bread, vegetable oil, sugar, and white flour mixed with extreme stress and economic hardship are poor substitutes for fresh buffalo and open plains. What about Americans, the ones who supplanted the Plains tribes? For most of the past two hundred years, Americans have been the tallest people in the world, until about fifty years ago when height began to stagnate. Today, American males stand around 5’10.5″, but we haven’t grown in decades and other countries have long since passed us. Meanwhile, European and Asian countries have steadily gained on us. The Dutch, whose men stand over 6′ and whose women stand over 5’7″, are now the tallest in the world. American males are ninth tallest and American females are fifteenth, and any regular reader of mine knows that the nutritional situation in America needs a lot of work. It’s no surprise that we’re stagnating while other countries with better nutrition are growing.

And yet for all the concrete links between a population’s height, health, and nutrition (especially childhood nutrition), some researchers have linked “excessive” height to poor health and longevity. Barring the obvious examples of short-lived people with gigantism and other endocrine disorders, there is some evidence that the shorter among us live the longest. Thomas Samaras, a height/health researcher, has authored several papers arguing that bigger is not necessarily better. In one, he reviews human and animal evidence and seems to present a strong argument, but others have argued that Samaras overlooks evidence to the contrary. While Samaras chooses to focus on increased mortality from non smoking-related cancers in the tall, he ignores the bevy of evidence showing that in industrialized nations, taller people enjoy more protection from all-cause mortality, including heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.

But what about those centenarians? As Samaras notes, they, along with nonagenarians (between 90 and 99 years old), are on average shorter than the rest of the population. The long-lived Okinawans are famously dimunitive, and it seems like every other Mediterranean centenarian in the news is a spry old lady.

I like one possible explanation for centenarians being shorter and slighter while enjoying better health and longevity: insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, a protein produced in the liver and stimulated by growth hormone that induces systemic growth in almost every cell of the body, including muscle, bone, various organs, cartilage, skin, nerves, and lungs. It even affects DNA synthesis and individual cell growth. IGF-1 is perhaps the biggest determinant of height in humans: in infants, IGF-1 correlates strongly with growth, IGF-1 is highest during growth spurts in pre-teens and teens, and higher levels of IGF-1 usually correlate with adult height. Clearly, enough IGF-1 is required for proper musculoskeletal development, but what about too much? Can you have too much IGF-1?

Staffan Lindeberg thinks that excessive serum levels of IGF-1 from diet-induced hyperinsulinemia are causing unhealthy amounts of growth, which manifest as higher rates of cancer and, yes, height, in Western populations. Simply put, Lindeberg agrees that a population’s height is an indicator of health, but only to a point, after which it indicates excessive and potentially problematic levels of IGF-1. There’s probably something to this; female centenarians are more likely to have an IGF-1 receptor mutation that results in elevated serum levels of IGF-1 while reducing IGF-1 receptor activity. In other words, the body was producing more IGF-1 to make up for the lack of receptor activity. This same receptor mutation has been linked to longevity in multiple animal models resulting in higher serum IGF-1 and lower IGF-1 receptor activity – just like in the human centenarians. In male and female offspring of the centenarians, however, only females showed elevated serum levels. Male offspring had similar IGF-1 levels to control males (those with no familial history of longevity). Female offspring were also 2.5 cm shorter than control females; male offspring were of similar height to control males. Perhaps short stature is more beneficial to women?

Maybe so. Gavrilova looked at draft cards filled out by 30 year-old Americans who would eventually grow up to become centenarians and analyzed the differences between the physical stats of those who would eventually grow up to become centenarians and those who didn’t. While obesity (or “stoutness,” as it was called back then) had strong negative links to longevity, height did not. The group of future centenarians was mostly people of medium height. Being soldiers, however, these were exclusively males. According to the IGF-1 receptor mutation study, only in females is the mutation linked to lower heights and greater longevity.

Overall, though? Height is linked to a population’s health and good childhood nutrition. In certain individuals, given certain genetic differences, short stature may indicate the potential for greater longevity, but not on a population-wide scale. Besides – barring pharmaceutical (or cybernetic) interventions, there’s not a whole lot we full-grown adults can do to alter our heights.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Share your thoughts in the comment board.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. You present some intriguing research, Mark. As with most scientific research, however, the results are inconclusive.

    And as you point out at the end, their is nothing we can do to change our heights, so the research is kind of pointless from a practical standpoint.

    Jeremy | Art of Lifting wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Well pointless for us, however should we have children down the road, this information is quite practical.

      Weston wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • It’s still very interesting… even for those of us NOT planning to have children. Especially if we happen to be freakishly tall females.

        :-)

        Danielle wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • Pointless to you, maybe. Not to those of us wanting to give our children a good start.

      Tony Ingram wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • It’s true that we can’t change our heights as adults. However, proper nutrition can reduce growth rates and final body height and weight. The famous anthropologist, Ashley Montagu, said that we take a false pride in the growth of our children but this is an incorrect position. William Galton and Richard Gubner also reported that favoring increased growth is a false value because bigger bodies are tied to poorer health and reduced longevity.

      For more information: http://www.humanbodysize.com

      Tom Samaras

      Our growth today is due to excess nutrition not better nutrition. The emphasis on animal protein and processed foods promote growth but this food system is considered a devastating by the global obesity expert, Barry Popkin.

      thomas samaras wrote on June 5th, 2011
  2. Hmmm interesting. However, I personally feel that a junk food diet = taller.

    Fred wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I would totally disagree. Most junk food is high-carb, low protein and makes people unhealthy. The introduction of junk food as a staple in the modern American diet could well be the reason for height stagnation. Western Europeans tend to eat healthier and as such are healthier and long-lived than Americans.

      Gil wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Growth in height and weight are related to birth weight which in turn is related to the mother’s weight. In addition, the total amount of protein, the per cent of calories from protein and total energy intake are primary drivers of human height and body size.

        Of course, pregnancy problems, low birth weight, congenital defects, childhood infections, and early malnutrition can result in shorter adult height even if a high protein diet is eaten later on in childhood and adolescence. See website for research papers on this subject: http://www.humanbodysize.com

        Tom Samaras

        thomas samaras wrote on June 6th, 2011
  3. Thanks for this very interesting post about the IGF-1 paradox.

    Maybe for adults there is not a whole lot we can do to alter our heights, but how can we naturally influence the height of our children?

    Lior wrote on May 31st, 2011
  4. So do you think kids that are raised to eat in your fashion are going to blow through their genetic heights and be taller? Disregarding their geneology? Just curious.

    Jeanna wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Your genes don’t dictate an exact height. They determine the range of possible heights you can achieve, and how tall you’ll be GIVEN a certain set of environmental factors. Mark’s saying that living Primally may help you reach your height potential.

      Primal E wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • There is another factor to height that I have personally experienced. At age 17 I joined the Army. At the time I joined I was 6’4″. Within 18 months I was 6’2.5″ and by the end of 2 years I stabilized at 6’2″. The cause of my height reduction was based on 2 factors, diet and extreme weight being carried. Average of 80 extras pounds in a pack for several hours at a time. I left the army in 1995 and in those last 15 years I have shrunk .5″.

        Chuck wrote on May 31st, 2011
  5. The average American male is 5’10.5″? I thought it was slightly shorter. I happen to be exactly that height, and like to describe myself as “tall-ish.” :)

    Michael wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Sorry to break it to you but you are short.

      Brian Vree wrote on June 1st, 2011
      • 5′ 10″ is not short at all. Just look around and make some observations. I’m going to have to do some research, but I too believe the average height of the American male to be less that 5′ 10″. Just by observation, I have always seen far more men shorter than me than taller than me, this includes all of my friends, and I am 5′ 10″.

        I know this post came late so I will likely get no response and no one will likely read this post, ha ha.

        morgan wrote on June 8th, 2011
      • how can this guy be called short when he just finished saying he was exactly equal to the statistical average?

        sean wrote on January 13th, 2012
  6. As a short 5’6″ male, I sometimes wonder if my nutrition had been from the farmer’s market instead of the cereal isle growing up how tall I might be today? Doesn’t bother me because it’s out of my control now but it’s interesting to think about.

    Another well written article, thanks!

    Nutritionator wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • same here. 5’6″. not lots of meat. stopped growing by 7th grade… though i was tall-ish for a 7th grader.

      shz wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • To bad you dont live in Ireland. The average Irishman is 5’7, and the women shorter. When my little sister who is 5′ tall came to visit, we had to go pick up my kiddos from school. After waiting outside the classrooms with the other parents we collected them and headed back home. She said “well, I always wondered what it would be like to be in a room where I’m as tall as everyone else. Now I know.” I wonder why the Irish are so short. I know malnutrition has played a part, but I think they have always been short and I’d love to know why. Now having said that, I have to say that my Irish husband is 6’1 :D but his dad and uncles are all 5’7, and his brother just 5’9 I think. So many questions!!!!!

      Granuaile wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Haha I can thank the Irish part of my heritage in part for my height and I’d love to visit Ireland! I was taller than all my friends in middle school, then they had growth spurts and I didn’t. Youtube Short People by Randy Newman, my roommates played me that song daily in college, great guys haha.

        Nutritionator wrote on May 31st, 2011
        • My grandparents came from Ireland, and I’m 5’8″. I grew up with a lot of kids of Irish descent and most were taller than average. That said, there is a great variance in height among my family members. I have a brother who is 6’3″ and another who is 5’7″. I also have a sister who is 5′.

          Mary wrote on August 4th, 2012
      • I believe most Irish people are of Celtic and/or Scandinavian ancestry. There were some earlier peoples but I’m unsure what their stature was. Celts were usually shorter, Vikings rather tall. That may explain the height differences you’re seeing.

        Mary C wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Having been born in Northern Ireland, but mostly raised in Australia, I’ve always pondered whether where I grew up affected my height. Also, I think there may be a height difference between people in the North of Ireland and people in the Republic – just based on observation… My mother’s family (who are Irish/Catholic) are all on the shorter side of average – so my mother was under strict orders as a young woman to break this tradition and “marry a tall man.” Enter my father (an Ulster Scot/Protestant) who is 6’3. While it’s been great that my 3 brothers all ended up being 6’4, as a girl I used to hate being considered tall (I’m 5’11).

        I only mention my parents’ backgrounds because I think traditionally Irish people may well be shorter, but I’ve noticed that people with an Ulster Scots background (and/or possibly some sort of Viking ancestry?) seem taller. It’s odd how much the height can vary in the North… Anyway, maybe growing up in the Aussie sunshine influenced my growth. I used to hate my height (and I know I’m not the only tall girl to feel that way), but I’ve actually learned to like it. For better or worse, people do tend to link your height with your identity, so you have to make the most of whatever height you are.

        kerrybonnie wrote on May 31st, 2011
        • I was surprised at how short the Irish were, compared to my American Irish family.
          All the men in my family are well over 6 feet tall (I have 27 first cousins).

          Sean Kelly wrote on June 1st, 2011
      • Wow, even with all those grass fed cows? It kind of makes me wonder…

        Bethany wrote on January 8th, 2012
        • Primal/paleo enthusiasts paint a picture of Grok, who enjoyed robust health and a long life, assuming he wasn’t killed by a beast or by falling off a cliff, but there are modern day hunter-gatherers who live a very short life and are also very small in stature. The pymgy tribes of Africa and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean, for example, are very short. The Sentinelese stop growing at about 12 years of age and usually die before age 30. What are some examples of long-lived present-day hunter-gatherer societies?

          Mary wrote on August 4th, 2012
      • Maybe there was intermarriage with leprechauns.

        Padraig wrote on September 2nd, 2013
  7. I’d prefer it if we separated the people in Atlantic Canada from the rest for the height comparison. From what I’ve seen whenever I go to america, you guys are so much shorter than us.
    It’s the wimps in the center of Canada who bring us down (height-wise). Did you know they cancel school for light snowfall? Pathetic!

    Alex Good wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Not in quebec, no matter how much of a snow storm the school never closed. I’m talking about Philemon wright lol.

      andy wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Dude, i tower over most people in Vancouver. They be midgets i say!

      Nion wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Vancouver practically shuts down if the forecast even mentions snow :p

      The Primalist wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Not even slightly true. The truth though is that when it snows in a warmer climate the roads end up covered in deep slush and people from colder snowier climates quickly learn what Vancouver drivers know intimately: driving in slush is 1000 times slipperier than driving on nice cold compacted snow.

        Johnc wrote on May 31st, 2011
  8. This is fascinating. I come from a tall family, my husband from a short one. We are both the same height – 5’7″. One twin son who tends to favor me, is tall. The other twin, is short. I am fascinated to see how tall they will grow relative to each other and us, their parents. And I’m hoping they will be taller because of the success advantages it gives them.

    Alison Golden wrote on May 31st, 2011
  9. Love your articles, Mark, but I thought your citation of North Korea/South Korea height differences was largely irrelevant to your first point about the potential impact of neolithic foods on shorter stature. For a country whose people have been reduced to scraping the bark off trees to ward off hunger, even the worst neolithic foods imaginable would have contributed to a drastic average height increase, and if you cited it to prove that nutrition (as in bare minimum of food needed to survive) has an impact on height, eh, glaringly obvious? Maybe evidence about changes in avg height of South Koreans, since their diet has become much more meat-centered (an example where caloric intake would not be a glaring variable), would have been more apt?
    Regardless, thank you for the work you put out. I’m a huge fan.

    Monica wrote on May 31st, 2011
  10. I am watching this experiment right now. My daughter just turned 4 and is head and shoulders taller then her peers. Her diet is far different from those kids around her and I wonder if her height is the result.

    MightyAl wrote on May 31st, 2011
  11. I’m from New Zealand, but mostly Dutch heritage. I stand at 5’11 and i’m a female, i’m about the top-range for my family. *most* of the adult males are taller than me. :D
    But it depended on if they grew up where we did – I spent my first 12 years in rural New Zealand farm country.
    We grew up eating a lot of grass fed lamb/mutton and occasionally beef. Not a lot of sugar or bread, as we were not the richest! Lots of plant matter too, as we’re also part Maori and the area was tribal too.
    In any case, me and my brothers turned out taller than the rest of the family.
    No small wonder why eh?

    Nion wrote on May 31st, 2011
  12. I was always a short kid all the way through high school!

    Today, I stand at 5’9″ and 146 lbs and LOVE my size. I don’t wish to be shorter or taller.

    BUT, I may gain a touch of height after going through Esthers “8 Steps to a Pain Free Back” book!

    Primal Toad wrote on May 31st, 2011
  13. Well I had a great childhood nutrition-wise and I’m 5’0″. (And female, so I guess that’s beneficial, lifespan-wise?) I seem to have gotten a large swack of my genes from my paternal grandmother though and she was only 4’10” (raised in the early 1900s on a farm in Nova Scotia, whereas I was raised in the 1970s on wild game & homegrown veg in the Yukon).

    I think one thing that Mark missed saying is that “good nutrition”, especially as it relates to height, is first about adequate calories, and that’s where the North Koreans are missing out. I think it could also be argued that part of why North America’s height stats have stagnated is because immigration makes up a substantial part of population increase and most immigrants are adults, many raised in suboptimal nutritional milieus OR from populations with genetically smaller statures. Denmark, not so much – it’s pretty ethnically homogenous and one things the Vikings historically did well was tall – now that the country is prosperous and well-fed, they’re doing it again. (I’m thinking the mid-1900s, what with the wars and food rationing and whatnot, put a dent in most of Europe’s tall.)

    Sarah wrote on May 31st, 2011
  14. I stand 5’6″ tall (or short…). I was always one of the shortest kids in school and still feel like a midget back home (Germany). Several years ago I moved to Vancouver. Now I feel like a giant! I’m seriously taller than many people around me. What a difference! So, does that make me tall or short? ;)

    belatrix wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • That makes you lucky because when you go out and buy pants they all fit or you get extra length =P

      My dang legs are so long I gotta push the pants down under my belly button to get the length on the bottom…lol

      Primal Palate wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Hahah, I wish! I have a big butt and a small waist. All the pance here in Vancouver are for tiny stick figures. I can’t buy anything without getting it altered. I always have to buy something too big & then have the waist taken in. That’s the only way my curvy form will actually fit. I suppose that makes me lucky come bikini season.

        belatrix wrote on May 31st, 2011
        • I know what you mean! Why do they make all women’s clothes for stick figures? Women are supposed to have curves but my butt is 3 sizes bigger than my waist! Drives me nuts!

          Robin wrote on May 31st, 2011
        • It’s not just in Vancouver where all the pants are for stick figures. It’s not just pants, either–skirts and dresses are made for stick figures too.

          Kathleen wrote on June 7th, 2011
  15. Sally Fallon of the WAPF wrote (though i don’t know what her source of information is), “Children brought up on high-protein, low-fat diets often experience rapid growth. The results—tall, myopic, lanky individuals with crowded teeth and poor bone structure, a kind of Ichabod Crane syndrome—are a fixture in America.”

    tess wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I think Sally’s onto something, and it probably has to do with IGF-1. I remember several of these Ichabod Cranes in my high school – freakishly tall and thin, and often myopic and with terrible cystic acne. You have to wonder what their moms fed them.

      lyra wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • I am one of those tall, lanky, myopic people with crowded teeth and poor bone structure. Always was so as a kid, needed all kinds of bone supports: teeth braces, mouth palate expanders, orthodics for flat feet, and worst of all, back brace and spinal fusion for a spine that grew so quickly it curved into scoliosis.

      Today I am 5’10” and still very thin. I can attest that when I was growing up my father has always been one of those “health-conscious” individuals who eats low-fat everything and high carbs, so I was raised on lots of lean meat, lots of reduced fat dairy, and cereals. Suffered terribly most of my life from all kinds of illness, allergies, and aches until I discovered Sally Fallon in my 20’s and went on a primal type of diet low in carbs and high in animal fats. I am healthier today than I’ve ever been, yet far from ideal…

      Jan wrote on June 5th, 2011
      • I don’t know if you will get this, but it really sounds like you have Marfan syndrome. You should do some research and see your physician.

        Years later... wrote on July 29th, 2014
  16. I always noticed that you never see any old REALLY tall people. Like 6 feet 4 inches and taller.

    Gary Deagle wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • My husbands step-Dad is 6’7″ at age 74 and walks without being hunched over.
      He is the only 1 I’ve seen though, very exceptional.

      Primal Palate wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • My Dutch grandmother is 80, 6ft and healthier than me, lol!

      Nion wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • My grandfather was 6’4″ until his death in his 80’s, and he got around pretty well actually. I’m trying to think of his diet, he spent pretty much his whole life in tidewater Virginia so ate lots of oysters and blue crab. He liked liver and brains and eggs too lol. He was pretty much a carnivore that ate full fat everything.

      As for physical activity, he worked in the shipyard and his job was very physical. He was also a competative golfer and did that A LOT. He was tall and slim to the end.

      Katie wrote on June 6th, 2011
  17. So what do the Ducth eat that is different from other Western Countries? Or perhaps it should be what don’t they eat?

    Jennifer wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I think it’s more what they don’t eat, and they tend to walk/ride everywhere still.

      Nion wrote on May 31st, 2011
  18. When I grew up in Europe I was of ‘normal’ height…female 5’10” at age 20. Most of the people I came in contact with were MY height, even women in their 50’s.

    I came to America (KY) and all of a sudden everyone was slightly shorter than me.
    We moved to Seattle and even more people were short. Then we moved to Idaho and found THE shortest women I’ve ever seen here. Most women here are robust (hefty and broad in bone structure) and have extremely short legs compared to upper body length…it looks ridiculous.
    I see a few women that are extremely tall, too…but nothing inbetween, in the ‘normal’ range.

    But, I’ve noticed most american women having a broad face with nice wide cheekbones (even if the dental arch is messed up), why is that?

    America grew up on ranching…lots of healthy meat and vegetables grown on very fertile dirt…I see where the big, hefty bones and wide faces developed (Weston A Price) but why such extremely short legs?

    Could 1-2 generations of malnutrition have such a great impact on peoples appearance?

    Primal Palate wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Interesting observation about the women in Idaho! I suspect that you’re seeing some kind of genetic grouping though, rather than anything nutrition related.

      lyra wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • I’m American (from VA), and my family’s been here since the 1600’s. I’m 5’7″ female, high cheekbones, not sure if my face would be considered wide or not. But I think I have very long legs. I’m naturally pretty tall and slim. But my hands and feet are really small (7.5 narrow shoe size), it seems to be genetic, but could nutrition have anything to do with that?

      Katie wrote on June 6th, 2011
  19. I find this article fascinating. I am 5’10” and had fairly good nutrition as a child. I think what is going to be most interesting is the current generation and height statistics for our kids today. Food has changed SO much even in the last 30 years and it’s just in a crisis state now. I am so grateful for all I’ve learned and the changes I’ve made. I feel like my kids eat better than the majority of their peers and however tall they end up, I know they are getting some great nutrition and learning a healthy lifestyle.

    Kellie wrote on May 31st, 2011
  20. I remember reading an article of Loren Cordain’s years ago, maybe it was in one of his newsletters. Anyway, he said that spikes in insulin cause an increase in growth in kids so, if you’re doing the paleo diet but you want your kids to boast the height of their peers, then you should feed them some high GI foods. He said he fed his kids white potatoes to compensate. I’ve wondered in recent years how that turned out for them.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on May 31st, 2011
  21. I would never marry a guy that was shorter than me, I’m 177 cm, female and 50% Fin. The other 50% is Austrian.
    I’ve always been attracted to tall agile guys with muscle definition, a little bit of padding and a strong jaw…all the rest look underdeveloped and make a lousy hunter and fighter for my children to be =P.

    The extreme skinny ones that look like they swallowed the zombie virus would just die on me while we’re looking for prey.
    With a shorter guy next to me I’d always feel like I’m the protector. How do I stand up as a female to the enemy without the help of a modern weapon, like a gun?
    Those are just the first impressions, unless proven wrong somehow. In the Grok world the short, skinny guy would never have a chance.
    No shorties for me…I like to be safe.

    Ironically, I had to marry an american to get what I wanted because it was hard to find a tall, muscular guy in europe that wasn’t also an asshole.

    Katzenberg wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • If you want a guy who’s a “good protector” the most likely candidate is someone who’s fit, strong, and shorter than average. Shorter guys get challenged/picked on the most as young men. Consequently, they’re often the best at real-life fighting and situational awareness.

      The tall guys don’t get picked on very much because they look imposing. Consequently they don’t have much real fighting experience.

      But I understand your wanting a guy who’s a good defender. I have to admit, I’m not attracted to men I could easily break in half. I’m not talking about build or height, I’m talking about toughness.

      My BF is 2 inches shorter than I, but he could take me in a fight any day (which is saying something).

      Janina wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • What the…? Who do you think the short guys are fighting? :) LOL

        Johnc wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • My husband would disagree with your “short guys get picked on most” theory, Janina. He’s 6’7 and was always much taller than his peers. According to him, it’s the tall guys who are most often the targets of bullies, and the bullies are mainly short guys who want to prove their manliness by taking down a bigger guy. He’s a peaceful person, but he did his share of short-guy swat-downs back in the day…:-)

        Tracy wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • Get & learn to use a weapon or learn martial arts, or get a husband who does. That would have a way bigger influence on ability to protect than height or gender. What do you seek protection from, anyway?

      Nothing wrong with being attracted to tall guys, but don’t do faulty rationalizations.

      Sofie wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Hi Sofie,

        yeah I did learn to fire a gun (husband taught me), and while I still lived in Germany I took Kung Fu.
        Back in Germany I had guys follow me home from places. I’ve had men wait in their cars at my house at night once they knew where I lived.
        I had to sneak back into the house like a ninja to avoid being seen by the stalkers.

        Going out I’ve always dressed way down, with ripped jeans and combat boots and even that didn’t help much. My Dad taught me where to hit them to stun them for a few seconds so I can run away. Calling the police didn’t help, unless they’ve broken into the house and I’m in real physical danger they never even come and check on you.

        So when I was looking for a man to marry…I made sure it was someone that looked like he can rip whoever a new one.
        With my 6’4″ tall american (ex-military) husband I feel safe :-)

        Katzenberg wrote on June 1st, 2011
        • And…german men are psycho…

          Katzenberg wrote on June 1st, 2011
  22. This is really fascinating to me. My children are fairly small relative to the other kids in their classes: my 9YO is the 2nd-shortest in her class (and is about the 40th %ile for height and 50th or so for weight according to pediatrician) while the 6YO is downright tiny, second-smallest only to the twin sisters in her class; 6YO is about the 30-35th %ile for height/weight. Paleo is a relatively new thing for us, but we’ve always gone easy on starchy foods, especially since we found many behavioral benefits of doing so when now-9YO was diagnosed with some special needs.

    Husband and I are both about what I’d consider more or less average: I’m 5’4+” and he’s about 5’11”. The girls have inherited his build, which is short legs relative to torso length, while I have a shorter torso and longer legs.

    But when I volunteer at my kids’ school and see kids in 3rd grade on up who are taller than me and in many cases weigh more than me (still working on a few more pounds, but at 142lb I’m not obese), it’s WEIRD. When I started teaching 20 years ago, third-graders were smaller than I was, and most 5th-graders were as well, but now even 4th-graders (in our system those kids are 9-11YO, depending on whether they redshirted kindergarten) are in many many cases taller than me and often heavier. :-(

    I don’t see a lot of robust good health, though: I see pudgy kids, I see kids with acne (in elementary school), I see kids who waddle, and I see so very many behavioral problems. I see girls with breasts already in 3rd and 4th grade (and menstruating 4th and 5th-grade girls), and boys with changing voices in 4th as well. I’ve already had it out with our school system’s and our state’s school meals programs, told them what I thought of serving kids artificially-colored and flavored strawberry milk with HFCS. I really feel for these kids. I feel especially bad for the ones with behavioral issues, since mine used to be one (mostly sensory overload in our case, but definitely helped with a good diet!), and I feel for the parents who think that just because they put “a yogurt” (pink and blue :X) in their kids’ lunch, or that the school serves milk, their kids are getting a healthy meal. I feel most sorry for the kids for whom lunch consists of Lunchables and a can of Coke. :-( It will be interesting to see where this batch of kids ends up on a number of social, growth, behavior, and health scales as they work their way thru middle and high school.

    The kids are getting bigger, but their health isn’t getting better if what I see is any indication. :-(

    deb wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I’m with you on this – it seems very strange how big kids are getting. My nephew was 5’10” and 200 lbs at 14YO and is still growing. My 11YO niece is already developing breasts. They have a terrible diet but they seem to think that their size indicates good nutrition. It reminds me of petroleum fertilizer making plants grow bigger and faster, but they aren’t very nutritious. Sacrificing quality for quantity? It’s like their bodies can’t support all the growth in a healthy way because they don’t have much muscle mass or coordination, and they have very bad teeth. It really worries me.

      Vicki wrote on June 1st, 2011
      • I agree, that maybe the chemicals in foods trigger rapid big growth.
        And it is very obvious, those children usually have a huge head, big plump weak skin, legs that aren’t straight due to weak joints. Those kids are HUGE and always overweight. I’ve seen quite a few in our little town here. Most of them have obese parents that look sick.

        There are other children that are taller than average, but look ‘normal’. Skinny and normal bone formation and are usually very athletic. Most of them have tall, slender parents that look healthy.

        Primal Palate wrote on June 21st, 2011
    • That’s why I read this article with such interest. My daughter sounds like your daughter (somewhat short, average weight). I’m really worried about her growing to a good height, esp. since it seems she’s destined to start puberty (and stop growing) soon — and too early. I often scour the web at night looking for possible ways to stave off puberty as long as possible so she’ll have a chance to gain some height. I guess now I won’t worry as much, but I would still like to keep puberty at bay for a little longer.

      And, though it’s been said ad infinitum, I have to second what you said about school lunches. The worst part is that I send the kids to school with lunches, but they often “forget” them when the cafeteria serves something they’re interested in. Nothing makes me madder than a call saying my kids owe money on their lunch cards — I don’t want them eating that garbage, and I surely don’t want to pay for the privilege!

      mamacita wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • Deb, just wondering- Is this rural, urban, middle class, economically challenged, etc? Fascinating. My girl in in 3rd grade and a handful of kids are 5 feet but that is the max, and only about 10% are overweight. Upper middle class suburb.

      Kelly A wrote on June 3rd, 2011
  23. Hmmm. This article seemed to wander around without a more specific focus. I’m left wondering several things:

    *Average height, while an indicator of general population health, is influenced by diet, but it is also influenced by genetics, which went largely unmentioned (possibly because it is a very complex inheritance, not a simple Bb). You also left out the influence of drugs on height—lots of steroids (such as those used to control severe asthma) shorten the adult height attained. I would think there are others.

    *In biology, one cannot endlessly enlarge an organism. A single celled organism cannot be bred up to the size of a human, there are problems with the physics involved. Similarly, there probably is a ceiling to human height. Maybe we could evolve to have some giraffe or whale adaptations to being tall/large, we could break through that ceiling, but we wouldn’t be H. sapiens anymore either. Therefore height stagnation in the US might be due to poor diet, but as presented in this article, that’s some weak proof.

    *It was my understanding that size:longevity was very true in dogs. The smaller the dog, the longer the life expectancy. An Irish Wolfhound lives on average 6 years. The average life expectancy of a Pomeranian is 12 to 16 years. I don’t know if there is any good research on why this is true for dogs.

    *And finally, I dislike the implied “short is unhealthy.” One is born with certain genes. We know that starting from conception epigenetics and environment (which includes diet) influence those genes’ expression. I like to think of it as you’re given a box of legos (genes), but each person puts them together differently. If you maximize your legos and you lucked out and got all great pieces for it, you can build a tall tower, but you’re not going to exceed the number of legos in your box. We aren’t to the level of genetic manipulation that someone is going to hand you a second box of legos to add to your tower.

    And for the record, I’m 170 cm (5’7″) and female, which puts me on the tall side of average for the US. I wasn’t fed great growing up, I wasn’t fed lousy. I have no idea if this was my maximum height possible or not.

    Having kids of my own, I worry about the junk that I see other kids eating, but I really, really, really worry about the lack of sleep and exercise I see my kids’ classmates getting.

    Elisabeth wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • When comparing dogs you need to compare within the breed. The largest, heaviest born in the litter is the most robust with best nutrition. The runt is always the one that is sick and lives the short life.
      That is, if they all live on the same shitty diet…and you watch who dies first.

      I know so because I have English Mastiffs.
      I now have a female (she was the runt nobody wanted) that I fed Colostrum + raw goat milk + raw diet + mineral supplement that is the tallest Mastiff I’ve ever seen and has a lean body, weight 205 lbs. No hip or other joint problems, no heart problems and she loves to distance jump.

      Can’t compare a short Asian to a tall European and think the asian lives longer cause he’s shorter.
      I think diet has more to do with everything than one thinks.
      I believe the taller and more robust someones genetic makeup is, the more nutrition is needed to feed that body.

      Elephants live to about 60 years…some lived to be 80. According to this law of size flies should live 200 years and elephants 1 day.

      Imagrok wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • I have always understood it to be that larger species live longer on average, but individual animals of the species who are smaller than average live longer than the larger ones. This makes sense to me because any animal’s body is evolved to last a certain length of time, and to wear out after a certain amount of use. The smaller individuals are putting less stress on their frames and metabolism than their species is adapted for, while the larger individuals are subject to more, so the larger ones burn out faster.

        Uncephalized wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • “Elephants live to about 60 years…some lived to be 80. According to this law of size flies should live 200 years and elephants 1 day.”

        Um, no, not my point, as elephants and flies while both members of the same Kingdom, aren’t even in the same Phylum, let alone genus and species. With dogs, all breeds are Canis lupus. Your Mastiffs and someone else’s Chihuahuas are members of the SAME species. And that was where my question came in, does anyone know of any decent research about why there is a tendency in dogs for the smaller breeds to live longer?

        You do bring up a valid point that within an individual litter, larger size is an indicator of more robust health. So it is a complex situation, within a given litter, larger size is better. But within the species as a whole, smaller breeds are longer lived. So at some point bigger is not more robust, or . . ? Do smaller Irish Wolfhounds live longer than the biggest? (would need to take into account relative litter size as well, maybe select only individuals who were largest in their litters, but select such that there is a smaller and a larger cohort) What about with the tiny, yip-yip dogs, does the size within a breed (big chihuahua vs. tiny chihuahua) make a difference on lifespan?

        And if this could be figured out, what would it mean to humans?

        Elisabeth wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • There are scientific studies that show smaller breeds
        live longer but I am not aware of formal studies that show smaller dogs don’t live as long within the same breed. However, the smallest poodles live longer than the biggest according to scientific research.

        Asian elephants live longer than than larger African elephants.

        In terms of humans, many studies have found that smaller people live longer and of course, smaller women live longer than men. While scientists have attributed this longer life to hormones, this has never been proven although it may be a factor.

        Tom Samaras (ed) Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling, Nova Biomedical Sciences, NY, 2007

        thomas samaras wrote on June 5th, 2011
    • Don’t forget many dogs are routinely de-sexed, and surely the lack of sex hormones would have some bearing on health, and longevity. How long do human eunuchs live?

      Dino Babe wrote on June 1st, 2011
      • It’s my understanding that fixed animals actually live longer, presumably because they spend resources on tissue repair that would otherwise go into reproduction.

        Uncephalized wrote on June 1st, 2011
      • One study in Norway involved 350,000 dogs and did not indicate that de-sexing was the cause of the smaller dog longevity. Besides, the de-sexing would probably apply to all breeds. In addition, longevity studies on mice and rats did not involve de-sexing and the smaller animals lived longer.

        thomas samaras wrote on July 17th, 2012
  24. I hate being short… I’m 5’3″ and I’ve also always been overweight. Not obese, just chunky. I changed that once.. then gained it back (thank you, bread and grains), but I’m changing again primally. I wish I had eaten better as a kid… :(

    Abby wrote on May 31st, 2011
  25. If only I had started Primal sooner, then all of those college coaches who said that I was too short to play offensive lineman [at 6’1″] would have given me those scholarships :)

    Love the work Mark! Keep it up!

    Mike wrote on May 31st, 2011
  26. Interesting. What about breastfeeding during childhood? Is it a factor in height?

    The Egyptian diet has always been very high in grains, legumes and sugar. Animals raised for meat are all stuffed with grains for fattening purposes especially since we’re in almost a complete dessert now after turning the green areas around the Nile into concrete. Yet, Egyptians are very tall. Men and women. I’m 158 cm and I feel like a midget around here. The interesting thing is the majority of Egyptian women breastfeed their children for at least a year. I personally don’t know any Egyptians who weren’t breastfed or Egyptian women who don’t breastfeed.

    Yasmine wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I was just wondering the same thing. Breast-feeding has such long-reaching ramifications that I think it can partly counteract worse eating later on… I was breast-fed until I was about 2 and half (shock horror!), and my Mum often says that was the only thing that stood by me when I went through 5 years of pretty severe Anorexia. I ended up being 5’11, despite deliberately starving as a teenager. I shudder to think of how I used to eat less than 2g of fat a day in those years.

      kerrybonnie wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Breastfeeding sets kids up with great immune systems, the corect calorie, fat,types of milk proteins, nutrients,superior developmental potentials of any infant feeding regime as well as the benefits of the neuronal development and brain networking from the close nurturing practices of breastfeeding. It also has benefits to the mother with protective factors against some women’s cancers, osteoporosis (due to making the body more efficient at extracting calcium from diet) and return of the body to healthier state post baby than that of those who choose to artificially feed. My children were fed until 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 (which is, by the way, completely normal, abnormality is weaning a baby sooner) and had only been to a doctor for non medical reasons. They rarely get sick and when they do, recover quickly with no ear infections, tonsillitis or conditions which are considered part of growing up. They also don’t have dental malocclusion from dummies (pacifiers) and teats on bottles. Our kids also slept with us with safety precautions in mind (no drugs, alcohol, obesity or doonas) or in the same room in crib next to our bed. I think that’s how we are intended to nurture our young. By the way, we are not even alternative lifestylers, just a farmer (grazier – grows meat) and a health professional.

      Lynn McNair wrote on August 20th, 2012
  27. Jack Lalanne was not very tall and he made it to 94? George Burns was pretty short (I think) and he passed the 100 year goalpost. Considerable difference in their diets and workout routines ;)

    Garett wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Yes, many people who live a long time are short. In fact, most centenarians are short and lean. However, this does not mean tall people can’t live to 100. The Okinawans have the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, and males average 4’10. Of course, some shrinkage occurred during their lives so that they were probably 5′ or so when they were young. A review of longevity data is shown in website: http://www.humanbodysize.com
      This website lists many research papers on this subject.

      Tom Samaras

      thomas samaras wrote on June 5th, 2011
  28. My mother made me go stand in the rain so I can grow tall.

    Imagrok wrote on May 31st, 2011
  29. I’ve always noticed the families of dairy farmers tend to be tall and lean. Besides being very hard workers, their diets tend to be very dairy-heavy and in most cases raw. I’ve always presumed the height came from the milk.

    I don’t know how this plays into longevity, but if it makes them more money, who cares? ;-)

    Weston wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • I went to Army basic at 17. I couldn’t stomach the water at Ft. Dix so I drank milk for liquid intake. During basic and other training, 24 weeks, I had a growth spurt. Gained 2 inches and 30 pounds. I was a skinny brat before. Taller then most of the other kids, at 6′. I’ve always credited the height gain to the milk and the weight gain to all the exercise.

      Charlie wrote on June 1st, 2011
  30. This would be very interesting long term study to do and maybe then have more conclusive evidence. Height has a HUGE genetic factor, so nutrition and modern medicine does affect the outcome a bit, but genetics takes the stage.

    Meagan wrote on May 31st, 2011
  31. Just met up with a distant relative who grew up very differently from me, in lifestyle and nutrition. We are exactly the same height and build…(short), incidentally, the same shape as my grandmother.

    My kids eat such healthy food, healthier than I did as a child. And yet they look just like old photos of my brothers and I at the same age!!

    They’re on the short side. Lots of longevity in my family along with the short, curvy build, so no complaining here!!

    fitmom wrote on May 31st, 2011
  32. If nothing else, the comments to the article prove that there are still a lot of bigotry and biases related to height. I feel for the short guys out there that feel like they have to work far harder to prove their worth, just because of their height. Regardless of diet, there is a genetic component that a person has no control over. Not that it couldn’t happen, but I don’t think you’re likely to see many very tall children of very short parents….even with a superb diet. And frankly, do we really all want to be the same?

    Kim wrote on May 31st, 2011
  33. What did the central european Grok do that the asian grok didn’t do, to grow long bones?
    And why does the african Grok have THE longest bones.
    Some documentary I’ve watched stated that africans jump in place from the day they can stand. They chant and bounce in place sometimes for hours.
    If done for thousands of years, generation after generation, would that start to affect bone growth and height?

    Sure seems like it, I think. So what did Grok in europe do that grok in asia didn’t?

    Imagrok wrote on May 31st, 2011
  34. 6′ 4″ and good with it.

    I’m tall, which does ultimately add a lot of stress to my body that a shorter person would not have to deal with. Hitting my head on things, lifting heavy things, pull ups (the exercise, not the diapers), cutting things on a kitchen counter (don’t even get me started with the extra short installations in restrooms) – all the bane of the tall person’s existence.

    I watch my son grow (he’s only 18 months now) and am concerned that he will be even taller than I am. I worry because we very much live in a world that expects people to be within a certain range, and I am at the upper edge (or already over that range). I would hate to see him having to deal with the consequences of being ‘too tall’.

    That said, I wouldn’t change my height – consequences be damned – for the world.

    Hal wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • My husband and I are 6’4″ (him) and 5’10.5″ (me) and everything is too short. They build everything for midgets it seems…even the clothes and shoes.

      We gave the toilet extra height (build a box under the toilet and raise it up above the box with piping)
      Move the bathroom mirror up…get rid of the door frame (above), build your own door (easy) that goes all the way to the ceiling like in old castles. Tables sit on blocks we bought at the store for $9.
      We demolished the kitchen and now have shelves (with no doors) along all the kitched walls, with plates, pots and pans and glasses being placed in hands reach. Even my computer desk is 6 inches taller than a reg. table and the monitor sits on an additional box.
      The house was remodeled to fit us giants. :-) I love it.

      Woodshop is an awesome hobby…lol.

      Primal Palate wrote on May 31st, 2011
  35. I am 6’3″ 215lbs. Growing up my parents (and therefore I) were practically carnivores. We rarely ate out, my mom graciously cooked dinner every night. Now nutritionally dinner wasn’t all that great, meat often cam breaded and fried and the one side was either potatoes, or some other high carb “vegetable.” My parents still consider corn a vegetable. What is really intereting was I had my growth spurt at 10 years old. By the time I was 12 I was 6’1″ and 225lbs. I wonder what my IGF-1 levels looked like and what effect it will have on me in the future.

    Jaybird wrote on May 31st, 2011
  36. At 6’2″ I’ve always enjoyed being tall. I was definitely well nourished as a kid, too. I think it’s safe to say I was OVERnourished. Thankfully, I got over that.

    Trey wrote on May 31st, 2011
  37. Inbreeding is also indicated in short stature. Italian immigrants were typically much shorter than ‘native’ Americans. Their children were of US average height.

    Some of this difference can be accounted for by prosperity/nutrition, but much had to do with exogamy. Most immigrants came from small villages with limited genetic diversity. After coming to the US, even if they remained in ethnic ghettos, they were likely to marry people who came from more distant locations. Hence taller kids.

    This may be true of more recent immigrants from Latin America as well, but I don’t recall hearing of it.

    John the Drunkard wrote on May 31st, 2011
  38. Could the size and shape of the maxilla have something to do with height in people?

    Weston Price says in his book that when mothers had malnutrition and gave birth to a child with down syndrome, the face (the maxilla bone) shows the most severe deformity. The pituitary gland doesn’t have enough room to develop and therefor won’t function correctly, thus resulting in a hormonal imbalance.

    My mother is the last and shortest child in her family. She’s about 5’5 with short legs and short neck and was born with a cleft palate. This is extremely short for being of nordic descent.
    The first born has a wide palate with excellent facial features and is 6’2″ tall. (born in finland while mother had finnish nutrition)
    They moved to Germany and started eating rye and white sugar…also WWII was about to start.
    The 2nd child grew up tall, but ended up with a narrow face and a narrow palate with crooked teeth.
    My mother born at the end of WWII. Her Mom was severely malnurished. Gave birth to a child with cleft palate (now my Mom).

    Both parents were tall, grandmother 5’11” and grandfather 6’3″.
    My mother ended up 5’5″, and I believe it was malnutrition that caused it…not my own mother eating junk food while growing up…as stated in the article.
    The junk food back then consisted of white sugar and rye products and canned vegetables.

    Saying that tall slender people grew up on junk food is ridiculous!!!
    Don’t be a hater just cause you’re short =P

    My grandparents grew up on their traditional foods.

    Lorelei wrote on May 31st, 2011
  39. I’m about 6’6″ – it will be interesting to see how tall my eventual kids grow.

    Oh and @Mike – I don’t know what they were talking about. I went to Penn State and saw the football players around campus a bunch of times. I was a good bit taller than most of them, including offensive linemen. Now the basketball team – that was a different story. They made me feel pretty short!

    Lee wrote on May 31st, 2011
  40. im 6.4 beat that!

    francois gamache wrote on May 31st, 2011

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