Parents worry about the size of their children. Especially if they are massively too big or too small compared to their peers. However, the so-called "average size" has changed over the decades. Influence on our growth also has where in the world we live.
Author: Alexa Brogli
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- Center for Evolutionary Medicine of the University of Zurich ZEM Center for Evolutionary Medicine of the University of Zurich ZEM
- Pediatric Endocrinology Center Zurich PEZZ Pediatric Endocrinology Center Zurich PEZZ
In Switzerland, young men are measured at the time of military enlistment. This has been happening since 1878 and therefore provides fairly accurate figures on the average height of males. According to these figures, a clear increase in size can be observed: In 1878/79, for example, only six percent of recruits measured 1.75 meters or more, whereas in 2008/2009, 71 percent had exceeded this height.
This can be explained by a constant improvement of the living conditions. Nutrition is likely to play a role, as well as hygiene and social structures. Since the 1990s, however, this increase in body size has stagnated somewhat: people are currently no longer getting bigger from generation to generation. A development that can also be observed in other countries in Central Europe as well as in North America.
Average size varies
There are different tables with different normal values. In fact, not all people grow to the same size everywhere. For various countries, therefore, one has one’s own average values. This is mainly due to the genes that are passed on and also to the conditions under which people live.
At 1.75 to 1.78 meters, the average adult in Europe is the same height as the average American. On both continents, the average woman is 1.65 to 1.68 meters tall. In Switzerland, the average difference in height between adult men and adult women is 13 centimeters.
How tall will my child grow?
Children inherit their size from their parents. Thus, the size range and the possible target size of one’s own child can be calculated approximately – for example, with the "Pulse" child size calculator (see box).
If the heights of the two parents are extremely different, a prognosis becomes difficult: Whether the child then tends to follow the mother or the father, or positions itself between the two extremes, cannot be predicted. Fluctuations and deviations from the target size therefore always remain possible. Even siblings are not necessarily exactly the same height as adults. Nevertheless, it is clear that children of taller parents tend to grow taller. Children with smaller parents also tend to be smaller when they are adults.
The timing of growth is also inherited. This means that children develop at different rates and do not all start puberty at the same time. Thus there are so-called "early developers" and also "late developers". If puberty starts early, growth ends early. However, if puberty starts late, growth also ends later. Therefore, not all children who were among the tallest in kindergarten or primary school are also tall adults later on, and not all small children remain small. Late developers grow later past their "peers", when the latter have long since stopped growing.