Saturday, May 18, 2024

Cheese or genes? How the Dutch are so tall?

According to military recordings, the average height of men in the Netherlands increased 20 centimetres in the last 150 years.

The Netherlands is a country of giants. On average, women are 1,71 metres tall, and men are 1,84.

On the other hand, it is a mystery that the Dutch have become the tallest people in the world. Eventually, they were considered one of the shortest races two hundred years ago. What happened since then?


A favourable explanation for the height of Dutch people is nutrition, a calorie-rich diet of meat and milk. Nevertheless, experts state that “this can not be the whole story.”

Other European countries enjoyed similar development in their welfare and lifestyle to the Dutch, but none got as tall as them. Military records show that the average height of men in the Netherlands increased 20 centimetres in the last 150 years, while the average height of American men only increased six centimetres in the same period.

The Dutch habitually consume dairy products in their diet, and studies draw a connection between increased height and diet. Professor Louise Barrett, from Lethbridge University, Canada, explains it as follows: “Calcium forms the bones, and growth depends on an ample source of it.”

Yet, we are triggered to pursue other explanations as the experts are unsatisfied with only one.

2-Natural selection and sex

Gert Stupl and his colleagues from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine dug a database in the Netherlands to look for clues.

The LifeLines database has extensive data about the lifestyle and health of over 94,500 people who lived in the northern part of the Netherlands between 1935 and 1967. In this picture of 30 years, the tallest women and men were the ones with the highest number of children.

For instance, men with most children were seven centimetres taller than the average. Statistically, tall men had an average of 0.24 more children than the shortest, behind the average of 14 centimetres.

It was found that the number of tall women in the Netherlands increased over time compared with women in other countries who tend to have fewer children. Most of these women delayed having children until they completed their education, but they formed a large family after establishing a successful relationship.

The study didn’t involve genetic testing, but natural selection was influential through observations. In time, more Dutch people benefited from ‘tall’ genes.

“Height is inherited; taller parents tend to have taller kids than shorter parents,” says Stulp. “The fact that taller individuals will have more and taller children, if everything is equal, the average height in that generation would be higher from the previous one,” he adds.

3-Sleep time

Our busy lives and intense programs sometimes make having a good night’s sleep impossible, and it cannot be replaced with anything else. That is why some people believe good sleep is why Dutch people are so tall!

As an adult, we don’t overthink about going to sleep according to time, but for children, we have a strong reason that growth and good sleep are firmly tied. How? Our body needs growth hormones to grow. This hormone released by the body naturally helps “build” tissue such as bone, skin, tendons and muscles. As a result, more growth hormones mean better muscular tissue, faster healing, and increased height.

That is why sleep is crucial when growth is considered. The body produces the growth hormone during sleep. Thus, the more deep sleep we get, the more we grow (between the ages of 19 and 27).


Lastly, one of the biggest reasons for the Dutch being so tall (as suspected) is cheese!

It is not surprising to know that the Dutch love dairy products. It is routine to see a cheese shop at any corner, cheese stalls at the open markets twice a week, and a massive dairy product area in every supermarket dedicated to cheese.

If you happen to go to the Netherlands, visiting the Gouda, Alkmaar, and Edam Cheese markets would give you a better idea.

Before exploring the cheese world in more depth, let’s consider the relationship between cheese and the height of the Dutch.

Some lands were too hard to grow vegetables due to their acidic nature, which was good for grass growth. Therefore, as the Netherlands gained more land, dairy production witnessed an explosion and the Dutch eventually increased milk consumption. They are still among the top milk consumers globally.

The milk the Dutch don’t drink has turned into massive cheese blocks such as Gouda and Edam, covered with wax and taking the name of the city in which they are produced. Alongside Woerden and the beautiful Alkmaar, these nameless cities are among the best places to witness the love the Dutch have for dairy products in full passion.


Main photo: Sabina Fratila/Unsplash

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