Dutch Language Blog

Why are the Dutch so tall? Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in Dutch Language

As a Dutch woman traveling over the world, one thing always stands out: my height. Although I am not extremely tall in Holland (1.75m), in every other country I am always the giant between the midgets. About 150 years ago the Dutch were one of the smallest people in the world, but now the average height of women is about 5 feet and 7 inches and for men 6 feet and 1 inch.So what happened?

Hardcore proof is still not delivered, but there are some ideas that could explain the growth of the Dutch. One of the most well known theories is that Dutch enjoy a dairy and protein rich diet. Rumor has it that this is what makes the Dutch so tall.

The natural law of survival of the fittest and natural selection assumes that the next generation has to be fitter than the one before. This is usually the case, unless abnormal things occur like a shortage of food or extreme weather conditions. So food is important, because it is clear that a shortage of food or bad food would not make the Dutch stronger and taller. But extreme cold or heat are also not beneficial for people. At least not for the Dutch. So it can’t be solely food.

J.W. Drukker, a professor of economic history at the university of Groningen came to the same conclusion. Drukker figured that the growth of the Dutch in the mid 19th century, the time where the Dutch shot into the air as eager mushrooms, has a lot to do with the spreading of wealth.

Before the grow spurt of the Dutch, the money and the power was in the hands of the elite. The differences between poor and rich were big and only the richest people could afford good food, proper houses, good hygiene systems and health care. But after the establishment of the first liberal democracy the wealth got spread and people got access to all of these good living conditions as well. And so grew the Dutch taller and stronger.

But why the Dutch? Other countries developed as well, right? That’s true, but health insurance is available for all the levels of the Dutch society and Holland has one of the best pro- and postnatal care systems in the world. Other rich countries who offer health care only for the wealthy people, for example like the Americans, don’t show by far as much growth or show no growth at all. Bad food makes them grow in horizontal directions, but we all know this is not what we are aiming at when we talk about health…

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  1. Peter Simon:

    Hi, I’ve found an article about the changes in hight around the world a few years ago, too, which pointed to nutrition at the early stages of childhood as a major factor in hight. Prenatal care may have a connection with it, but not the other factors, as growth depends on the hormones, and growth hormones are switched off during the teenages. Let me point out a language issue now. “And so grew …” sound like Dutch to me. “so” only causes partial inversion, not a full verbal kind, and inversions normally only occur initially, possibly not after “and”. “grow spurt” should also be “growth spurt” if anything. Best regards, SP

  2. Paul Meijer:

    They are large because the short ones could not hold their head above the water

  3. Kara Cook:

    While I agree with a lot of what you say, I would point out that your statement about the American health system is a little conclusory. There are several reasons why Americans are on average shorter than the Dutch, not the least of which is wider ethnic variety. I am an American, I am a female, and I am taller than you are. Somehow I managed to grow taller than you even though I’m American and grew up in a poor household. That’s because sometimes genetics outweigh other factors. I was born to tall parents, so I am tall. When you concluded that Americans are on average shorter because of our health system, you turned a blind eye to the reality of the American ethnic makeup.

  4. njombo:

    Yeah it is all about a good social and medical system. The Dutch have a better nutritional and heathcare systems than even most Americans. Social inequality will also contribute to great difference in growths between classes of people anywhere. Although I grew up in an area where most males were only 169cm on average, I grew up to be 190cm and all my brothers are at least over 182cm. This is due to the fact, I was of an upper class background and also had tall genes within my family tree.

  5. Susan schwartz:

    You sound like one who believes in eugenics. You equate being tall with having superior health. That would then mean that most of Asia is unhealthy because many in that part of the world are diminutive.