India’s women are gaining height faster than India’s men—but Indians are still very short

Standing tall
Standing tall
Image: Reuters/Amit Dave
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Indians are growing taller, but just not enough.

Over the past century, Indian women grew in height by 4.9 cm on an average, while Indian men grew taller by just 2.9 cm.

The average height of an Indian woman is now 152.6 centimetres (5 feet), and that of a man 164.9 cm (5 feet 4.9 inches), according to a new research report from the Imperial College London.

A little over a century ago, in 1914, Indian men and women stood at an average of 148 cm (4 feet 10 inches) and 162 cm (5 feet 3 inches) respectively. These figures come from 100 years worth of data on the average height of 18-year-olds in 200 countries.

The significant growth in height among Indian women over a century—in comparison to men—though, hasn’t helped them in their global rankings as they are still among the shortest people by nationality, according to the study.

In comparison, the height of women in many of India’s neighbouring countries increased substantially during this period. For instance, in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the average height of women increased by 9.3 cm between 1914 and 2014.

“This study gives us a picture of the health of nations over the past century, and reveals that the average height of some nations may even be shrinking while others continue to grow taller,” said Majid Ezzati, a professor from the school of public health, Imperial College London. “It 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.”

Indian men were ranked 178 among 200 in 2014, while Indian women stood at 192. In 1914, Indian men were 101 on the ranking, while women were at 163.

“There are two primary factors responsible for these results—India has one of the highest undernutrition and malnutrition levels in the world,” V Mohan, chief of diabetology at Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre, told the Mint newspaper.

Though the situation improved after independence, as reflected in the increased height, India hasn’t kept up with other countries. This is reflected in its fall in global rankings.

Latvian women are the world’s tallest, with an average height of 169.8 cm (5 feet 6 inches), while among men, Dutch are the tallest at 182.5 cm (5 feet 11 inches).

Where are the world’s tallest men and women found?

Men from Timor-Leste, a country of 1.2 million between Indonesia and Australia were the shortest, with an average height of 159.8 cm (5 feet 2 inches), while among women, the Guatemalans were the shortest at 149.4 cm (4 feet 10 inches).

Where are the shortest men and women in the world?

“An individual’s genetics has a big influence on [their] height… but once you average over whole populations, genetics plays a less key [role],” James Bentham, a co-author of the report told the Guardian. “Most populations would grow to roughly similar heights if they were all in the same conditions.”