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Am J Hum Biol. 2017 Mar;29(2). doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22980. Epub 2017 Feb 15.

Global effects of income and income inequality on adult height and sexual dimorphism in height.

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School of Sport, Exercise & Health Sciences, Loughborough University, LE11 3TU, United Kingdom.
Universität Potsdam, Institut für Biochemie und Biologie, Maulbeerallee 1, Potsdam, 14469, Germany.
Aschauhof 3, Altenhof, 24340, Germany.



Average adult height of a population is considered a biomarker of the quality of the health environment and economic conditions. The causal relationships between height and income inequality are not well understood. We analyze data from 169 countries for national average heights of men and women and national-level economic factors to test two hypotheses: (1) income inequality has a greater association with average adult height than does absolute income; and (2) neither income nor income inequality has an effect on sexual dimorphism in height.


Average height data come from the NCD-RisC health risk factor collaboration. Economic indicators are derived from the World Bank data archive and include gross domestic product (GDP), Gross National Income per capita adjusted for personal purchasing power (GNI_PPP), and income equality assessed by the Gini coefficient calculated by the Wagstaff method.


Hypothesis 1 is supported. Greater income equality is most predictive of average height for both sexes. GNI_PPP explains a significant, but smaller, amount of the variation. National GDP has no association with height. Hypothesis 2 is rejected. With greater average adult height there is greater sexual dimorphism.


Findings support a growing literature on the pernicious effects of inequality on growth in height and, by extension, on health. Gradients in height reflect gradients in social disadvantage. Inequality should be considered a pollutant that disempowers people from the resources needed for their own healthy growth and development and for the health and good growth of their children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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