Teenagers who have a poor diet could be up to 20cm shorter than other young people of the same age, a global study has found.
According to research led by Imperial College London, inadequate nutrition may have contributed to 19-year-olds in south and southeast Asia, Latin America and East Africa being the shortest, while those in northwest and central Europe were the tallest.
Scientists found the average height of 19-year-old women in Bangladesh and Guatemala – the nations with the world’s shortest female population – is the same as that of 11-year-old girls in the Netherlands – the country with the tallest boys and girls.
Meanwhile the average height of 19-year-old males in Timor-Leste and Laos – the countries with the world’s shortest boys – is the same as that of 13-year-old boys in the Netherlands.
Some of the other tallest 19-year-olds on average in the world included those in Montenegro (boys 183.3cm; girls 170cm), Denmark (boys 181.9cm; girls 169.5cm) and Iceland (boys 182.1cm; girls 168.9cm).
By contrast, 19-year-olds were 163.1cm for boys and 156.9cm for girls in Papua New Guinea, 164.4cm for boys and 150·9cm for girls in Guatemala and 165.1cm for boys and 152.4cm for girls in Bangladesh.
Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the study from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said: “Children in some countries grow healthily to five years, but fall behind in school years.
“This shows that there is an imbalance between investment in improving nutrition in pre-schoolers, and in school-aged children and adolescents.
“This issue is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools are closed throughout the world, and many poor families are unable to provide adequate nutrition for their children.”
The study also found that over the last 35 years, British 19-year-olds have on average become taller than they were back in 1985 – but have fallen down the height rankings compared to those in other European countries.
Nineteen-year-old boys in the UK were 176.3cm on average in 1985, making them 28th tallest in the world. They are now 178.2cm tall, but have fallen to 39th.
For women, 19-year-olds were 162.7cm in 1985, ranking them 42nd tallest in the world. Now they are 163.9cm on average, dropping to 49th.
The data, which was published in the Lancet journal, is based on data from 65 million children aged between five to 19 years and living in 193 countries.