The study found both men and women in Hong Kong were taller than city residents 40 years ago. Photo: Bloomberg

Tall tales: Asians hit new heights with largest growth spurts in world, 100-year study finds

Imperial College London looked at residents of 200 countries from 1914 to 2014

Asians may not be physically imposing people in general, but they have actually become taller over the last century, according to an extensive study of people’s heights around the world.

Research led by scientists at Imperial College London and published in the journal eLife found that men and women from Hong Kong, mainland China, South Korea and Japan experienced some of the most significant growth spurts.

In a sign of improved public health and nutrition while poorer countries languished behind, Hong Kong jumped in the ranking of 200 countries and territories.

Between 1914 and 2014, the ranking of the city’s women rose to 99 from 176, while men ­ascended 87 places to 66. ­Hongkongers overall gained a ­respectable 13cm, going froma mean height of 146cm to 159cm. They closed ground on mainlanders, who on average went from 150cm to 160cm.

Mainland women also saw a growth spurt over the same period, from the ranking of 134 to 87, while their male counterparts jumped from 130 to 93.

South Korean women boasted the most significant improvement, leaping from 196 to 55 as they gained an average 20.2cm in height. South Korean men surged 100 places to 51.

The research team drew on military figures as well as health and nutrition population surveys. Photo: EPA

Japanese men moved up from 187 to 102, while Japanese women climbed 83 places to 112.

Among the Hong Kong academics contributing data to the survey, Professor Jean Woo, chairwoman of Chinese University’s department of medicine and therapeutics, described local growth rates as “dramatic”.


“If you go around looking at Hong Kong Chinese, the young generation are pretty tall, old people are very small – it’s a very good reflection of improved nutrition and better public health,” the professor added.

On the other end of the scale, she cited poorer Asian regions such as Laos (ranked 198) and Cambodia (190) with growth stunted by worse public health, higher child mortality rates and lower life expectancy.

Dutch men and Latvian women claimed the title of the tallest people in the study, with the average height being 183cm and 170cm respectively.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Rich Asians have grown taller over the last century