Primary objectives: This paper aims to provide an overview of variations in average height between 10 European countries, and between socio-economic groups within these countries.
Data and methods: Data on self-reported height of men and women aged 20-74 years were obtained from national health, level of living or multipurpose surveys for 1987-1994. Regression analyses were used to estimate height differences between educational groups and to evaluate whether the differences in average height between countries and between educational groups were smaller among younger than among older birth cohorts.
Results: Men and women were on average tallest in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands and shortest in France, Italy and Spain (range for men: 170-179 cm; range for women: 160-167 cm). The differences in average height between northern and southern European countries were not smaller among younger than among older birth cohorts. In most countries average height increased linearly with increasing birth-year (approximately 0.7-0.8 cm/5 years for men and approximately 0.4 cm/5 years for women). In all countries, lower educated men and women on average were shorter than higher educated men (range of differences: 1.6-3.0 cm) and women (range of differences: 1.2-2.2 cm). In most countries, education-related height differences were not smaller among younger than among older birth cohorts.
Conclusions: The persistence of international differences in average height into the youngest birth cohorts indicates a high degree of continuity of differences between countries in childhood living conditions. Similarly, the persistence of education-related height differences indicates continuity of socio-economic differences in childhood living conditions, and also suggests that socio-economic differences in childhood living conditions will continue to contribute to socio-economic differences in health at adult ages.