Poor nutrition in poorer countries: Children in these nations grow up much shorter than elsewhere

  • There are few global studies on the height and BMI of children 
  • Research was conducted to fill this information gap 
  • There is a height difference of 20cm between the tallest and shortest adolescent populations>


Limited data exist on the health and nutrition of school-aged children and adolescents on a global level. A global analysis, led by Imperial College London, was recently published in The Lancet. The study examined the height and weight of groups aged between five and 19 years. 

The world’s tallest kids

Researchers assessed growth trends among 65 million participants between 1985 to 2019 – based on data pooled from 2 181 population-based studies.

An average difference of 20cm was found between adolescents from the world’s tallest and shortest populations. The tallest were from the Netherlands, Montenegro, Estonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (boys); and the Netherlands, Montenegro, Denmark, and Iceland (girls). And the world’s shortest kids lived in Timor-Leste, Laos, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea (boys); and Guatemala, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Timor-Leste (girls).

South African kids not among the healthiest

In the case of South Africa, the findings indicated that local girls tended to gain too much weight for their height.

The study also showed that around the age of five years, South African children were at optimal height, but once they reached 19 years they were shorter than recommended by the World Health Organization for that age group.

In their paper, researchers said: “The unhealthiest changes – gaining too little height, too much weight for their height compared with children in other countries, or both – occurred in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.” 

Good nutrition is vital

This kind of study is of great importance as it shows that good nutrition is vital in young children to ensure good outcomes. Researchers warned that good nutrition in the early life of a child is vital as it can impact the rest of their life, and, if neglected, can lead to stunted growth and obesity.

Image credit: Unsplash

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