Why are the Dutch taller than Italians?

Genetic differences, painstakingly crafted by thousands of years of natural selection, explain why Europeans from the north tower over their southern cousins, researchers said on Monday.

Why are the Dutch taller than Italians?
A study has tried to account for why Dutch people are on average seven centimeters taller than Italians. Photo: Abir Anwar/Flickr

In a study that touched on the age-old “nature vs nurture” debate, an international team of scientists set out to determine once and for all why, for example, the average Dutchman's frame differs so much from that of, say, a Portuguese person.

“We found that genetic differences between countries provides an explanation for national differences in height,” lead author Matthew Robinson, from the University of Queensland in Australia, told AFP.

Many physical traits, including height and body mass index (BMI: a ratio of height to weight), vary between people from different regions of the world, even different parts of the same continent.

In Europe, for example, the Dutch are seven centimetres (2.7 inches) taller on average than Italians, and rise eight centimetres above Spaniards.

But the relative contribution of genes and environmental factors has never been clear.

“We were interested in working out whether there were genetic differences,” said Robinson.

The team used genetic data from 9,416 Europeans from 14 countries to predict their height and BMI.

They then checked the predictions for national differences, which would indicate that the genes influencing height and BMI were more or less prevalent in people from different countries.

“They found that historic natural selection on both height and BMI has created genetic differences among different countries,” said a Nature press summary.

The association was stronger for height than for mass – about a quarter of the variation in height and eight percent of the variation in BMI could be explained by regional genetic characteristics, the team found.

The cause was likely “historic natural selection” – the Darwinian process whereby humans or animals best suited to their environment survive and transmit their genetic traits to succeeding generations, whereas inferior traits disappear over time.

“Many thousands of years ago when Europe was being settled, it is likely that the characteristics that were best to survive differed in the Mediterranean as compared to northern Europe,” Robinson theorized.

The team also found that tall nations such as the Netherlands and Sweden were genetically more likely to be slim, though BMI was more strongly influenced by environmental factors than height.

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Over one in ten children live in low-income households in Norway

The proportion of children who live in low-income households has increased steadily since 2011, rising to just over one-in-ten, according to a report from Statistics Norway.

Over one in ten children live in low-income households in Norway
Photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The report found that there a total of 115,000 children belong to households in low-income groups. This is around 11 percent of all children in Norway.

“Studies show that people born into low-income families have in increased risk of being left behind in several areas of living, among other things, growing up in low-income shows a connection with negative health outcomes. It has been shown that young people’s mental health is affected by belonging to a low-income family,” the report states.

In its article on the data, Statistics Norway defines “persistent low income” households as having “under 60 percent of [national] median average [income] over three years”.

Children with an immigrant background have accounted for more than half the children from persistent low-income groups since 2013. This is despite only accounting for 18 percent of all children. Nearly 40 percent of children with immigrant backgrounds belong to low-income households, according to the Statistics Norway figures.

“This has a clear connection with the fact that households with a weak connection to the labour market are exposed to low income,” the report said.

Families with a Syrian background had the highest proportion of low-income households with almost nine-out-of-ten children coming from low-income families. Meanwhile, the largest group of children in number are those with a Somali background with over 11,000 of these children living in low-income households. Children with an Eritrean background saw the largest jump.

READ ALSO: Immigrants in Norway more likely to be affected by loneliness 

The report indicated that the reason behind these groups having large numbers of children belonging to low-income households was because the average number of people in the household with an occupation was less than one between 2017 and 2019.

Those with Lithuanian and Polish backgrounds saw decreases of children in low-income households. Children from these countries, as well as Sri Lanka, India and Bosnia-Herzegovina averaged 1.5 people employed in the household in the same period.  

Single parents are much more likely to be found in low-income groups, as are families with three or more children. 

The areas with the largest municipalities were most exposed to low income. Sarpsborg, in southern Norway, overtook Drammen as the municipality with the largest proportion of low-income children with 19.1 percent.