What Affects Human Height? Why are Southern Slavs and Scandinavians So Tall?
Human height is controlled by multiple genes and environmental factors. Many studies have estimated the heritability of human height, and we also know it to be true from our everyday experience – the children usually take after their parents when it comes to height. Another important factor is nourishment: the healthier one eats, the more they will grow. However, we will not be looking into that right now. Instead, we’ll examine what constitutes the height of nations.
Important note: The following results are based only on measured stats. Non-measured and self-reported stats cannot be considered a reliable source. For instance, one self-reported study shows that the average size of Dutch people is 183.8 cm (6 ft 1⁄2 in), while measured stats show the result of 181 cm(5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). It is well known that guys like to add a few centimeters to their size (I am talking about their height, you pervert!). 🙂
Based on the research by Pineau, Delamarche and Bozinovic called “Average height of adolescents in the Dinaric Alps” the average 17-year-old male from Herzegovina (part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) is 185.6 cm (6 ft 1 in) tall, which makes them the tallest (measured) people in the world. In our article, we will focus only on the results of national scale that are not self-reported.
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina 183.9 cm (6 ft 1⁄2 in). source
2. Montenegro 183.2 cm (6 ft 0 in). source
3. Serbia 182.0 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). source
4. Sweden 181.5 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). source
5. Lithuania 181.3 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). source
7. Austria 180 cm (5 ft 11 in). source
8. Finland 180.7 cm (5 ft 11 in). source
9. Croatia 180.4 cm (5 ft 11 in). source
10. Denmark 180.4 cm (5 ft 11 in) source
11. Slovenia 180.3 cm (5 ft 11 in). source
12. Czechia 180.3 cm (5 ft 11 in). source
13. Norway 180.0 cm (5 ft 11 in).source
As we can see, there are 13 countries where the average height is more than 180 cm (5 ft 11 in), and all of them are European. Out of those 13 countries, five are from former Yugoslavia (the only country that is not on the list is Macedonia, because I could not find any measured data), four of them are Scandinavian, one Northern European that is close to Scandinavia (Lithuania), and two are Central European (Czechia and Austria).
So what do those countries share in common besides being tall?
Let us take a look at the map that shows the distribution of the I haplogroups and we might see an interesting match.
Darker spots represent a higher concentration of the I haplogroups. Now, let’s check how big the percentage of I haplogroups is for each of the 13 countries.
According to Dr. Damir Marjanović from the University of Sarajevo, the concentration of the I haplogroups is ∼71% in the region of Herzegovina, where the average height of a 17-year-old guy is 185.6 cm (6 ft 1 in).
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina: 183.9 cm (6 ft 1⁄2 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 50.1%
2. Montenegro: 183.2 cm (6 ft 0 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 37.87%
3. Serbia: 182.0 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 42.97%
4. Netherlands: 181 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 25.5%
5. Sweden: 181.5 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 43.38%
6. Lithuania: 181.3 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is ∼13% (Eupedia is the source of this information, and I don’t consider it the most reliable, so I put a ∼)
7. Austria: 180 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is ∼21.5% (Eupedia is the source of this information, and I don’t consider it the most reliable, so I put a ∼)
8. Finland: 180.7 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 37.04%
9. Croatia: 180.4 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 43.6%
10. Denmark: 180.4 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is ∼41.5%
11. Slovenia: 180.3 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 31.3%
12. Czechia: 180.31 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 19%
13. Norway: 180.0 cm (5 ft 11 in). Concentration of the I haplogroups is 38.7%
As you can see, the only country that does not have a significant influence of the I haplogroups is Lithuania. The shortest Europeans are people from Portugal, with an average height of 172.30 cm (5 ft 8 in) and the I haplogroup’s contribution to Portuguese genetics is around 3%. Turkish people are only 173.6 cm (5 ft 8 1⁄2 in) on average and there is only 5% of I haplogroups in Turkish DNA. Italians are also among the shortest European people with 174.48 cm (5 ft 8 1⁄2 in) on average, and the frequency of I haplogrops with them is around 10%. There are a lot of correspondeces between the frequence of I haplogroups and average height. However, there are exceptions – Romanians are only 172.30 cm (5 ft 8 in) and their I haplogroup genetic influence is 14,1%, which is pretty similar to the Lithuanian level.
We are not claiming that the I haplogroup is the only reason why some people are tall, but we do believe that it does have considerable influence. Life conditions are also extremely important; thus, humans are now taller than they used to be. There is no starvation in Europe currently, unlike the middle ages, which allows us to eat and grow more than we did in the past. It is interesting that the Dutch were never considered tall throughout history – it was only lately that they happened to grow so tall. On the other hand, Scandinavians and Southern Slavs were always considered tall and both have substantial influence of I haplogroups, which works in favor with the thesis of this article.
Haplogroup I is the oldest major haplogroup in Europe and in all probability the only one that originated there (apart from minor haplogroups like C1a2 and deep subclades of other haplogroups). Haplogroup IJ would have arrived from the Middle East to Europe some 35,000 years ago, then developed into haplogroup I soon afterward. Today Europeans are the tallest people in the world. Besides North America, I haplogroups are not present outside of Europe, or are present in irrelevant numbers (less than 1%).
Let’s look at Slavs for instance. Most of Slavic population is R1a (Indo-European) + I2a1b-L621 (related to I, therefore comes from the first people that populated Europe). Among Southern Slavs, conversely, I2a1b-L621 is more common than R1a. For instance, the frequency of the I haplogroups among Russians is 15.8%, and 50.1% among the population of Bosnia and Hercegovina. The average Russian is 177.2 cm (5 ft 10 in) according to Brainerd E. (2006) “Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data,” while the average Bosnian is 183.9 cm (6 ft 1⁄2 in).
The main genetic difference between Serbs and Bulgarians is the higher E1b frequency among Bulgarians, and the higher I2a1b-L621 among Serbs. As I mentioned before, the average Serbian is 182.0 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in), while the average Bulgarian is only 175.2 cm (5 ft 9 in) according to this source. I2a1b-L621 is found among 32.49% of Serbs and only 16,8% among Bulgarians. E1b frequency is 13.84 % among Orthodox Serbs (some sources claim it is as high as 16-17%), and 26% among Bulgarians.
One more time we have to mention that genetics is not the only factor that determines one’s height, it probably only shows one’s potential for growth. How much variation in height (difference between individuals) is attributable to genetic effects and how much to nutritional effects? According to molecular biologist Chao-Qiang Lai of the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, the short answer to this question is that about 60 to 80 percent of the difference in height between individuals is determined by genetic factors, whereas 20 to 40 percent can be attributed to environmental effects, mainly nutrition and sports.
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