Height of nations: a socioeconomic analysis of cohort differences and patterns among women in 54 low- to middle-income countries

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 20;6(4):e18962. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018962.


Background: Adult height is a useful biological measure of long term population health and well being. We examined the cohort differences and socioeconomic patterning in adult height in low- to middle-income countries.

Methods/findings: We analyzed cross-sectional, representative samples of 364,538 women aged 25-49 years drawn from 54 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) conducted between 1994 and 2008. Linear multilevel regression models included year of birth, household wealth, education, and area of residence, and accounted for clustering by primary sampling units and countries. Attained height was measured using an adjustable measuring board. A yearly change in birth cohorts starting with those born in 1945 was associated with a 0.0138 cm (95% CI 0.0107, 0.0169) increase in height. Increases in heights in more recent birth year cohorts were largely concentrated in women from the richer wealth quintiles. 35 of the 54 countries experienced a decline (14) or stagnation (21) in height. The decline in heights was largely concentrated among the poorest wealth quintiles. There was a strong positive association between height and household wealth; those in two richest quintiles of household wealth were 1.988 cm (95% CI 1.886, 2.090) and 1.018 cm (95% CI 0.916, 1.120) taller, compared to those in the poorest wealth quintile. The strength of the association between wealth and height was positive (0.05 to 1.16) in 96% (52/54) countries.

Conclusions: Socioeconomic inequalities in height remain persistent. Height has stagnated or declined over the last decades in low- to middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, suggesting worsening nutritional and environmental circumstances during childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Height*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Developed Countries*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Sample Size
  • Social Class*