A new global analysis published in the Lancet has assessed the height and weight of 65 million children aged 5-19 years in 193 countries and found a 20 cm difference between 19-year-olds in the tallest and shortest nations - representing an eight-year growth gap for girls and a six-year gap for boys.
The research, which reported data from 1985 to 2019, revealed that the nations with the tallest 19-year-olds in 2019 were in northwest and central Europe, and included the Netherlands, Montenegro, Denmark and Iceland. The nations with the shortest 19-year-olds in 2019 were mostly in south and southeast Asia, Latin America and East Africa.
The research also revealed that, in many nations, children at age five had healthy height and weight. After this age, children in some countries experienced too small an increase in height and gained too much weight.
The international team behind the study warns that highly variable childhood nutrition, especially a lack of quality food, may lead to stunted growth and a rise in childhood obesity, affecting health and wellbeing throughout life.
They say these findings should motivate policies that increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious foods.