The average height of poverty-stricken women in some developing countries has dramatically declined in recent decades, according to a new study conducted by Harvard University.
The study assessed the height of 364,500 women between 25 and 49 years old in 54 poor and middle-income countries. Poor women in Africa were the most likely to have seen declines or no increase in height compared to their mothers and grandmothers, according to the findings.
The average height among women declined in 14 African nations, and leveled off in 21 others in Africa and South America. Women from Guatemala and Bangladesh were found to be the shortest and those in Senegal and Chad were the tallest.
According to The New York Times, height is a common measure of long-term health, and short stature could point to disease and poor childhood nutrition.
“It’s a sobering picture,” S. V. Subramanian, the study’s lead author and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health told the Times. “It tells you the world is not getting to be a better place for women of lower socioeconomic status. For them, it’s getting worse.”
The report was published April 20 in the online scientific and medical research periodical PLoS One.
According to the study, women in the poorest 20 percent of those studied had an average height of 5-foot, 1-inch, no matter which decade they were born. However, women in the richest 20 percent have grown, averaging 5-foot, 2-inches tall, one-half of an inch taller than women of similar economic status born in the 1940s.
Guatemalan and Honduran women saw the largest gaps in height between wealthy and low-income women. Uganda and Ethiopia had the least significant gap.