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The only way is up: Men's average height 'up 11cm since 1870s'

Men have grown at the rate of approximately a millimetre a year and a centimetre a decade

Is this proof that austerity really does lead to growth - of one kind at least?

The average height of European men has grown by 11cms since the latter part of the 19th Century, according to research carried out at the University of Essex.

According to the findings, which were published in the Oxford Economics Papers journal and analysed data from the early 1870s to 1980, men have grown at the rate of approximately a millimetre a year and a centimetre a decade, despite the period in question spanning two World Wars and the Depression of the 1930s.

Timothy Hatton, the economics professor who led the study, said: "Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations."

The study, which shows the average height of a European male growing from 167 cm to 178 cm in a little over a 100 years – suggests an environment of improving health and decreasing disease "is the single most important factor driving the increase in height", said Hatton.

The results appear initially surprising given the tough conditions experienced in the early 19th Century by the 15 Western European countries sampled for the survey.

Though poverty, food rationing and the hardship of war might have been expected to limit growth, researchers said there was in fact a “distinct quickening” in the rate of men’s growth during the period. 

The conditions of increased austerity, led to families having fewer children in the period, which in turn was found to be linked to an increase in average height.

The study, which said there was too little historical data to analyse height fluctuation in women, concentrated its study on men of an average age of 21, and sourced its date from military records and modern population surveys from 15 countries including Britain and Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Researchers said: “[the results are] striking the period largely predates the wide implementation of major breakthroughs in modern medicine and national health services.”

One possible reason posited for surge in height, aside from the decline in infant mortality, was the strong downward trend in fertility at the time. Smaller family sizes, the researchers said, have previously been found to be linked to increasing height.

Additional reporting by Reuters