Irish teenagers taller and heavier than 35 years ago, study finds

Survey across 193 countries finds 20cms difference between tallest and shortest teens

Irish teenagers have become taller and heavier in the last 35 years, according to a global study published in The Lancet.

The study of child and adolescent growth trends in 193 countries shows the average height of 19-year-old young women in Ireland has risen from 162.4cms (5 foot 3 inches) in 1985 to 164.5cms in 2019.

This brings them up to 44th in the global height rankings, compared to 48th in 1985.

The average height of 19-year-old young men has risen from 177.1cms (5 foot 8 inches) to 179 cms over the same period, although dropping in the global rankings from 22nd to 25th.


In terms of BMI (body mass index), 19-year-old women now have a mean BMI of 22.6, up from 21.7 in 1985, moving from 82nd to 94th place in the global rankings over the same period.

The mean BMI for male 19-year-olds also rose from 21.7 to 22.7, placing them in 102th place overall, down from 71st in 1985.

The study, based on data from 65 million teenagers, revealed a 20cms difference between the tallest and shortest nations, driven by stark differences in childhood nutrition and living conditions, the researchers report.

The study shows that the Netherlands has the tallest residents with 19-year-old males and females on average 183.8cms (6 foot) and 170.4cms (5 foot 6 inches) respectively.

In Bangladesh, 19-year-old males and females were 165.1cms (5 foot 4 inches) and 152.4cms (5 foot), on average.

Nations in the north-west and central Europe, such as the Netherlands, Montenegro, Denmark and Iceland, had the tallest 19-year-olds, with the shortest reported mostly in south-east Asia, Latin America and east Africa, including Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala and Bangladesh.

The greatest changes in height were seen in China and South Korea. In China, 19-year-old males were 8cms taller in 2019 than in 1985.

Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College, London said the results show that countries "vary enormously in their ability to support their children and adolescents to become a healthy and prosperous generation".

“In many countries, children’s potential for healthy growth during school ages is not fulfilled, even in many of the countries where children seem to grow in a healthy way to five years of age,” Prof Ezzati added.

Prof Ezzati also said that inequalities in access to healthy food have long existed in the background but have come to the fore in a more extreme way due to the Covid-19 pandemic. - additional reporting Guardian

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times