A poor diet may be stunting height growth in children, researchers have said.
A study has found an average height difference of 20cm (7.9in) among school age kids form around the world.
The findings were based on data collected from more than 65 million young people aged between five and 19, from 1985 to 2019.
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The research team from Imperial College London say that last year the tallest young people came from the Netherlands and Montenegro and the shortest recorded children came from South-East Asia, Latin America and East Africa.
They say their findings indicate that a lack of nutrition and healthy foods significantly impacts growth among children, which could impact their longterm health.
The data has also shown countries have improved their approach to diet as height improvements were recorded in China, South Korea and some parts of southeast Asia.
In 1985, teenagers in China were 8cm shorter than they were last year. However, the average height of young people in the UK has declined in the last 35 years, with 19-year-old boys falling from being the 28th tallest in 1985 (176.3 cm) to 39th in 2019 (178.2 cm).
Weight was also looked at as part of the study and the research team found teenagers from the Pacific islands, Middle East, USA and New Zealand had the biggest body mass index (BMI) range and it was lowest among those south Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh.
Senior author of the study, Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial’s School of Public Health said: “Children in some countries grow healthily to five years, but fall behind in school years.
“This shows that there is an imbalance between investment in improving nutrition in pre-schoolers, and in school-aged children and adolescents. This issue is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools are closed throughout the world, and many poor families are unable to provide adequate nutrition for their children.”
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Dr Andrea Rodriguez Martinez, lead author of the study, added: “Our findings should motivate policies that increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious foods, as this will help children grow taller without gaining excessive weight for their height.
“These initiatives include food vouchers towards nutritious foods for low-income families, and free healthy school meal programmes which are particularly under threat during the pandemic. These actions would enable children to grow taller without gaining excessive weight, with lifelong benefits for their health and wellbeing.”
The study has been published in The Lancet.hest BMIs in the study was equivalent to about 25kg (55lb).