Now these children will be taller than their peers

An extensive database emerges on a peculiar trend in children's height.

An extensive database emerges on a peculiar trend in children’s height.

Around the world, a certain group of children outgrow their peers and overcome the height difference that used to exist between city and country children.


Fluctuations in the height of children across the world are surprising.


These are the results of an extensive global study of over 71 million children from almost all parts of the world.


The study was published in the journal Nature , but it reveals that children and teenagers between the ages of 5 and 19 grow on average more in rural areas than urban children.


So far, the proportions have been opposite. The trend has reversed in recent years and the difference in height between children in the countryside and in the cities has evened out, say roughly 1,500 researchers from all over the world who have joined together to work on the data collection.


The trend is particularly clear in the rich countries, say the researchers, who point to countries such as the United States, Great Britain and France as examples.


In 1990, city children were on average taller than rural children, although the difference was insignificant in most countries with high average incomes.


However, when we look forward to the year 2020, both rural and urban children had increased overall. In some countries the difference in height had evened out, but in many countries the rural children had even become taller than their peers in the cities.


Some countries are lagging behind

Scientists are really struggling to answer the fundamental question in an unequivocal way, i.e. what is the explanation


Until now, living in larger cities has been associated with improved health due to easier access to healthcare, education and better nutrition.


Part of the explanation for the above transformation may be that the health of city dwellers has been deteriorating in recent years, or that the health of rural residents has been improving.

Height graph of children worldwide

  • Height differences between children have become less apparent among children in cities and rural areas in countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Croatia), South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay), East and Southeast Asia (Taiwan) and among girls in Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan), where rural children have caught up with their urban peers in terms of height.
  • In China, Romania and Vietnam, the height difference between cities and rural areas is shrinking, but children in cities were nevertheless taller than their peers in the countryside in these countries in 2020. The difference was between 1.7 and 2.5 centimeters, favoring city children.
  • In East African countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, boys in cities outgrew their peers in rural areas and the difference amounted to about one centimeter. The difference in height was almost unchanged for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for girls in southern Asia.

Another possible explanation may be that more people have migrated to the cities and that this fact has evened out the health gap between cities and rural areas. Scientists do not give much credence to this hypothesis.

Although the trend seems to apply in many parts of the world, there is still some inequality in some countries, say the researchers. They point in particular to regions such as Africa south of the Sahara, South Asia, the Pacific region and the Middle East, where children from the countryside have not approached the city children in terms of height, but the difference between them has increased in some places.

The study is based on data from a total of 2,325 population surveys that were conducted between 1990 and 2020 and which cover a total of 200 countries and regions. The researchers have studied both the children’s height and their body mass index in order to get a picture of their growth and development.

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