We’re not sure whether you’ve noticed, but Dutch people are tall; they’re the tallest on the planet.
The Netherlands is the tallest country on the planet, with an average height of 182.5cm for men and 168.7cm for women. In comparison, their American counterparts are 177.1cm and 163.5cm taller. This was not always the case. An analysis of Dutch military records for a Royal Society of London study indicated that in the mid-1800s, men in the Netherlands were among the shortest in Europe.
“Dutch military men were roughly 165cm tall in 1860,” said Professor Louise Barrett of Canada’s University of Lethbridge, who was involved in the study. “At the time, men in the United States were about 5cm taller.” Barrett went on to say that this made Americans the world’s tallest people.
However, there has been a startling role reversal: in only 160 years, Dutch males have grown by 20cm, leapfrogging their American counterparts, who have grown by only 6cm.
“That’s too fast to be a genetic influence,” Barrett says, though she believes natural selection played a role. According to her research, the most fertile couples in the Netherlands — those with the most offspring – are tall men and average-height women. And what about the most fertile American couples? Short ladies and guys of normal height.
Environmental factors have also propelled the Dutch to new heights, according to Barrett, who cites the Netherlands’ world-class healthcare system, low levels of wealth inequality, and excellent social welfare system as other reasons for their success. “[In the Netherlands], everything is aimed around generating high-quality newborns who don’t suffer from any of the factors that reduce height,” she explained. “Every time you mount an immunological reaction, you use energy that you could have used to grow.”
Then there’s the Dutch diet: the Dutch have a ravenous appetite for dairy, which may have contributed to their higher height. “Calcium forms bone, and growth is contingent on a sufficient supply,” Barrett noted.
According to Ben Coates, author of Why the Dutch Are Different: A Journey into the Hidden Heart of the Netherlands, the Dutch love of dairy is a result of the country’s manufactured topography.
According to Coates, the Netherlands has been fighting the tide for generations, pegging back the ocean with water-pumping windmills and water-channeling canals, and keeping it at bay with dykes. And on the reclaimed ground, they constructed a nation that would go on to govern the very waves that had vanquished them. A popular local proverb neatly summarizes this accomplishment. “God made the universe, but the Dutch made the Netherlands.”