The Hunger Winter

I’ve never really understood this:

The Dutch, long renowned for being the tallest people in the world, are shrinking, according to research published on Friday.

The diminution of the famously giant populace is partly explained by the immigration of smaller people from other countries and their children being born in the Netherlands, according to the study by Statistic Netherlands.

But it is less clear why people with exclusively Dutch roots, which is defined as all parents and grandparents having been born in the country, are also not as tall as they used to be, although a worse diet could be a factor.

That the Dutch are tall I can observe just by looking out the window at the folks visiting the bars. That immigration will change the genetic part of height reached seems obvious.

The bit I never have understood is the reason oft given for why the Dutch are tall, that Hunger Winter of 1944/5. That there was considerable malnourishment is true. That this is claimed to be – part maybe – of the trigger for the height I’ve seen claimed. But I’ve never really understood the argument as to why in-utero malnourishment should lead to greater height.

Is the idea that the required greater efficiency of calorie usage to even get born carries on through life?

12 thoughts on “The Hunger Winter”

  1. Sigh

    One of our friends here sagely pointed this out a while ago. Anyone in the Netherlands under six foot drowns.

  2. Infant mortality is a factor here: the survivors tended to be at the higher end of the height/health distribution. I have read however that this is a somewhat temporary effect and that the Dutch are shrinking again!

  3. A chunk of those who were shorter (or were going to be), died in the winter, leaving those who ended up taller. On average.

    Mean reversion.

  4. When I was a boy I met a lot of Dutchmen. They seemed to me to be the same size as the British. Decades later very tall Dutch laddies started arriving as research students in the lab. I never have heard an explanation that seemed to have any evidence behind it.

    P.S. The tall Dutch laddies started arriving at about the same time as petite Chinese lassies. Ideally we should have replaced many of our lab benches to accommodate them.

  5. I vaguely recall hearing a theory that the tallness of the Dutch is related to their parents going through malnourishment as very young (or unborn) children.

    Hopefully someone with some expertise in genetics can give a sensible reason why.

  6. Has to be another effect of global warming. Dutch have been evolving to keep their heads above rising sea levels. So we can put the current decline in altitudes at the door of the evil climate deniers.

  7. not an expert.. but the gyst of epigenetics is that it involves environmental factors leading to changes in the chromosome not the dna code sequence itself. These changes affect whether a DNA sequence is on or off. As well as regular cell division (mitosis) some of those changes can be carried through in meiosis (cell division for sexual reproduction) , so can affect later generations.

  8. Is the Netherlands the only place to have had a famine in the past?

    Pretty sure not. Why are there not generations of really tall Ethiopes, Ukrainians etc. if that is the cause?

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