Published in the Lancet, the study pooled data from over 2,000 population-based studies. The researchers acquired height and weight measurements from 65 million children in 200 countries.
All those measurements produced a decidedly diverse picture of height and weight. While European countries like the Netherlands, Montenegro and Denmark have the world’s tallest children, the shortest are clustered in south and southeast Asia, Latin America and East Africa.
A nearly 8-inch difference was found between 19-year-olds in the world’s tallest and shortest nations. The Netherlands had the tallest boys, with an average at just over 6 foot; East Timor had the shortest at 5-foot-2. The tallest girls were from the Netherlands, too, at almost 5-foot-6; the shortest average height for girls, in Guatemala, was just 4-foot-9.
The height differences represented up to an eight-year gap between the shortest 19-year-old girls, who stand eye-to-eye with 11-year-old girls from the tallest nation.
When it came to body mass index, the heaviest children lived in the Pacific islands, the Middle East, Chile and the United States. The BMI showed about a 55-pound weight difference between children of the same age in the lightest and heaviest countries.
The research also revealed differences in how some kids grow. Many were on par with the healthiest around the world at age 5, but either grew too little or gained too much weight thereafter.
The researchers say the variety of heights and weights comes down to disparities in nutrition and healthy living environments for school-aged children and that there’s evidence of imbalanced investment in nutrition for children 5 and older. They say it’s critical to keep investing in health and nutrition for children of all ages — especially during the pandemic, which has hampered some parents’ attempts to provide adequate nutrition for their children.
In October, the World Health Organization warned that up to 132 million more people could become undernourished during the pandemic. Currently, the WHO estimates that 690 million people are undernourished worldwide.