Do Environmental Factors Significantly Impact Height?

Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

Environmental factors significantly impact height, with socioeconomic conditions, nutrition, and overall quality of life playing crucial roles. While genetics set the potential for an individual’s height, environmental conditions can either enhance or hinder the realization of this potential. Understanding these influences is essential for developing interventions aimed at improving growth outcomes, particularly in populations exposed to adverse environmental conditions.


Height is a complex trait influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While genetics play a crucial role in determining an individual’s potential height, environmental factors can significantly modulate this potential. This article explores the impact of environmental factors on height, drawing on evidence from various research studies.

Environmental Influences on Height

Socioeconomic and Environmental Stressors

Research indicates that height variation is significantly influenced by environmental stressors such as socioeconomic conditions, air pollution, and life expectancy. A study examining data from 31 OECD countries found that adult height strongly correlates with indicators of a stressful environment, including GDP per capita, income inequality, and urban air pollution. These factors were grouped into “Quality of Life” (QoL) and “Social factors” (SF), both of which showed a strong correlation with height, particularly in men1.

Nutrition and Health

Nutrition during early childhood is a critical determinant of adult height. Poor nutrition can lead to growth retardation, which is often reflected in shorter adult stature. A review of various studies highlights that short adult height in low- and middle-income countries is primarily driven by poor environmental conditions, especially inadequate nutrition during the early years4. This underscores the importance of ensuring adequate nutrition to promote optimal growth.

Historical and Generational Changes

Historical data also reveal changes in the influence of environmental factors on height over time. For instance, a study comparing two generations in the 1958 British birth cohort found that several environmental factors affecting childhood height in the older generation had less impact on the younger generation. This suggests an improvement in living conditions and a reduction in the adverse effects of environmental stressors over time5.

Genetic and Environmental Interactions

The interplay between genetic and environmental factors is evident in various studies. For example, a pooled analysis of 45 twin cohorts from 20 countries showed that the proportion of height variation explained by shared environmental factors was greatest in early childhood but remained significant until early adulthood. This study also found that genetic contributions to height increased with age, highlighting the dynamic interaction between genetics and the environment2.


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Kelvin Yen has answered Near Certain

An expert from University of Southern California in Gerontology, Anti-Ageing

While a large portion of height is certainly heritable, even with the latest technology and largest cohorts, only 40% of the variability of height can be attributed to specific genes (Yango et al Nature 2022). Anecdotally, if one looks at people from emerging countries, their increase in average height over a decade or two can not be explained by genetics, and therefore would be environmental (most likely nutrition).


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

William Muir has answered Near Certain

An expert from Purdue University in Genetics

Human height has one of the highest heritability’s among quantitative traits in humans. However it is not perfect, meaning that at least 10% of variation is environmental. This is under normal nutritional conditions, i.e. not under nourished. If you look at uniforms worn by soldiers over 100 years ago or more, very few current Americans or European males of the same age could fit into one of those.

This difference cannot be attributed to selection for greater height because humans tend to pair by height, meaning shorter people are contributing to the gene pool as mush as tall. The only explanation is that nutrition has improved over the last 100 years, particularly during the growth phase during youth.


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Peter Visscher has answered Near Certain

An expert from University of Queensland in Genetics

The answer is (clearly) yes: there is a lot of evidence that height increases over time when countries industrialise and/or get wealthier, and this change must be environmental because genetic factors don’t change over short periods of time (e.g. decades). The likely specific environmental factors are abundance of food and better healthcare.


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Eirini Marouli has answered Near Certain

An expert from Queen Mary University of London in Genetics, Bioinformatics, Statistics

The short answer is probably yes. Human height has steadily increased over the past two centuries across the globe. Genetics have an important role, but it would be hard to account exclusively for this rapid change in height. It is reasonable to assume that there is an upper limit to average height, at which nutritional and health factors are optimal. But it has also been hypothesized that recent lifestyle changes may be hindering further changes in the average height of humans. So, additional factors influencing height could include changes in healthcare, nutrition, and socioeconomic status. Could height have reached its limit? Only time can actually tell.


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Saverio Alberti has answered Likely

An expert from University of Messina in Genetics, Cancer, Cell Biology

The short answer is yes. An example that may fit is the height of the newborns during the 1944 famine in the Netherlands. The statistics need to be checked though.


Do environmental factors significantly impact height?

Steve Hsu has answered Near Certain

An expert from Michigan State University in Genomics, Artificial Intelligence, Physics

Under conditions of nutritional deprivation (e.g., insufficient protein, minerals, calories), children typically do not achieve their full potential for height. For example, a significant difference in height between North and South Koreans (in favor of the latter) has arisen as the latter country has developed economically. South Koreans tend to be much taller than their parents and grandparents.

In cases where nutrition and other living conditions are adequate height is largely determined by genetics. Adult height can be predicted from genotype alone (DNA) with accuracy roughly 3cm.

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