In a study conducted by Imperial College, London, a global analysis has been released indicating that height and weight are the major determinants of the quality of diets for school going kids and adolescents. In this analysis, it is determined that the quality varies significantly across the globe. In the study conducted, the researchers assessed the height and weight of 65 million school-aged children and teenagers across the world whose ages ranged from five to 19 years across 193 countries. There was a 20cm difference that stood out in the study results between the 19-year old’s in the tallest as well as the shortest nations, this represents an eight-year growth gap for girls and a six-year growth gap for boys.
To explain this, one instance from the study showed that the average height of the girls in Bangladesh and Guatemala, the nation with the World’s shortest girls, is the same height as an average eleven-year-old girl in the Netherlands, the nation with the tallest boys and girls.
The international team of researchers who conducted the study noted that the variable in this study was childhood nutrition. The lack of quality of food might lead to stunted growth, while in some cases increases in childhood obesity can also be observed as contributing factors which affected the children’s health and overall wellbeing over their lifetimes.
The study collected data from the year 1985 till 2019. It revealed the nations with the shortest 19-year olds in the year 2019 were mostly in South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, East Africa, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala and Bangladesh. The study reported the tallest 19-year olds in the year 2019 were found in northwest and central Europe and included the Netherlands, Montenegro, Denmark and Iceland.
In the span of 35 years, a large improvement was observed in the average height of children that belonged to nations such as; China, South Korea and many other Asian countries. This means, that 19-year old boys in China in 2019 were 8cm taller as compared to 1985 which changed their global height ranking from 150th in the year 1985 to 65th in the year 2019, while in the case of many sub-Saharan African nations, the height of boys has been quite stagnant over these years and in the UK, the graph shows a decline with the global height ranking falling from 28th in the year 1985 to 39th in the year 2019 in the case of boys and from 42nd to 49th in the case of girls.
The study also analyzed the BMI- Body Mass Index of the children which is a height to weight ratio indicating if a person is falling within a healthy range of body weight according to their height. The research showed that the Pacific Islands, the Middle East, the USA and New Zealand have the highest BMI of the 19-year olds while the lowest BMI was found in South Asian countries (such as Bangladesh). The mean difference between the highest (heaviest) and the lowest (lightest) BMI was about 9 units of BMI which when converted to kilograms is around 25kgs of weight.
The research team revealed that the most significant reasons for these statistics is the lack of adequate and healthy nutritious diets and poor living environments since both heights as well as weight gains are closely linked to the quality of a child’s dietary pattern.
Some of the patterns in the study showed that children in some countries grow in a healthy way for up to five years but later fall behind once they begin attending school. This reflects the presence of an imbalance between the investment in nutrition in pre-schoolers and in school-aged children. This issue becomes even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic since schools are shut down across the world and there are many poor families that are unable to meet the nutrition requirements of their children and in some cases unable to even meet the 3-meals a day standard.
The improvement in heights and weights over the years in some nations serve as a positive reinforcement for improvement in the quality of nutrition in growing children as well as healthy lifestyles for their overall wellbeing. However, the declines in the graph in some nations do serve as an eye-opener that measures need to be taken immediately in order to make the upcoming generation of youth healthier.