Better nutrition and health care behind height increases in UAE

Emiratis are on average 10 centimetres taller than their ancestors were a century ago because of better nutrition and health care, but doctors warn that childhood obesity could reverse those gains.

ABU DHABI // Emiratis are on average 10 centimetres taller than their ancestors were a century ago because of better nutrition and health care, but doctors warn that childhood obesity could reverse those gains.

Emirati men average 170.5cm and women 158.7cm, which is 11.2cm and 9.1cm more than their 1914 counterparts, respectively, according to a global study released on Tuesday.

Doctors said that better nutrition, medical facilities and access to health care may be reasons behind the rise, but cautioned that childhood obesity could curb growth.

“If children are overweight then the growth hormone will be reduced, so their height will be less,” said Dr Ashok Kumar, an orthopaedic surgeon at Saudi German Hospital in Dubai.

“It may be that those who are now about 18 or 20 years old have been more physically active and thus the average height is more. [But] the average height can go down.”

People’s heights are determined by genes, nutrition and environment, he said.

“Earlier, there were many infections and these infections stopped the growth of bone,” he said. “Water-borne diseases are fewer now. People are doing more exercise and preventable diseases are going down. This also effects the average height.”

The study, titled A Century of Trends in Adult Human Height, was published in the scientific journal eLife by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, a network of health scientists researching non-communicable diseases. The lead authors, based at Imperial College London, researched the average height of 18-year-olds in various countries between 1914 and 2014.

“We know that the environment that children grow up in is vital for their health. This starts before birth and continues through to adolescence,” said co-author Dr James Bentham.

“Children who are well nourished, who don’t suffer from major illnesses and who receive good health care will grow up to be taller on average. This has major implications for their health as adults, as taller people in general live longer and are at lower risk of heart disease.”

But, he said the UAE was one of few countries without data on height, so local estimates were based on heights in neighbouring countries.

Dr Sadashiva Somayaji, orthopaedic surgeon at NMC Specialty Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said people today were more aware of calcium and vitamin deficiencies and took supplements.

“Fortified food is available and people can access it. Doctors are better educated and technology has improved,” he said.

“This is happening all over the globe. Ten years ago, people were not aware of vitamin D deficiency, and now people want to get it treated.”

Hormones added to food could be another cause of the height increase, said Dr Dana Al Hamwi, a dietitian at Dr Dana Diet Centre in Dubai Healthcare City.

“People are more aware of vitamin D and are giving their children good nutrition,” she said.

Umm Abdulla, 52, an Emirati who lives in Abu Dhabi, is 155cm tall but her children are all taller. Her eldest daughter is 159cm and her son is 175cm.

“I thought the average height would be lower now because of the changing diet. Nowadays, children eat a lot of unhealthy food. I see many young people who look shorter than their parents,” she said.

“When we were children, we used to eat homemade food, but nothing special to become tall.”

arizvi2@thenational.ae

Published: July 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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