Kenyans have become shorter or stagnated in the past 100 years compared to their peers around the globe, especially those in Europe.
According to a new survey the average Kenyan man, has lost a few centimetres off their height from 1962 at 172.2cm (5ft 6in) and then stagnated to 169.6cm (5ft 5in) while the Kenyan woman has moved from 160.6cm (5ft 2in) in 1962 to 158.2cm (5ft 1in) in 2014.
Scientists have warned that the change in height — attributed to malnutrition and environmental factors — has adverse effects on health, particularly that of mothers and children. Height is also inherited.
According to the study published in the journal eLife, Kenya was number 25 in 1914 in terms of height but has dropped 95 places to 120 in 2014.
The study shows that taller people generally live longer and are also less likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
Further, taller people on average have higher education, earnings and possibly even social position.
The study’s co-author, Prof Majid Ezzati, said: “Kenya has not gotten as much shorter as some other countries in Africa but has at best stagnated.”
When a woman has a short stature, it not only increases the risk of pregnancy complications but also pre-term births and small-for-gestational-age babies both of which are risk factors for neonatal mortality.
Malnourished children and adolescents or those who suffer from serious diseases or live in poor environments, will generally be shorter in adulthood.
According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, one in four children under five is stunted — or too short for their age. This is a sign of chronic under-nutrition. Stunting is more common in rural than urban areas (29 per cent versus 20 per cent) and ranges from 15 per cent in Nyeri to 46 per cent in Kitui and West Pokot.
Malnutrition, according to the research, has health consequences because early life nutrition affects adult health.
Prof Ezzati asked the government to come up with policies that “should be a combination of global (more effective aid) and domestic (better use of resources to improve household environment and nutrition).”
While greater height in adulthood is beneficial, it is also harmful because it increases the risk of colorectal, post-menopausal breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly prostate and pre-menopausal breast cancers.
The study, however, says Dutch men and Latvian women are getting taller.
The average Dutchman is now 183cm (6ft) tall, while the average Latvian woman reaches 170cm (5ft 7in).
Interestingly, Iranian men and South Korean women had the biggest spurts, increasing their height by about 16.5cm and 20.2cm respectively.
The shortest men are in East Timor at 160cm while the world’s shortest women are in Guatemala. Their average height has not changed since 1914.
The research also revealed that once-tall USA — the origin of ‘American height’ in local parlance — had declined from third tallest men and fourth tallest women in the world in 1914 to 37th and 42nd respectively in 2014. Americans’ height stalled in the 1960s possibly due to the deteriorating quality of the country’s diet.