I was always curious about that one - regarding humans, not other species - how different environments affect height? Are people living in the mountains shorter that those living in the jungle or the other way around? We're, of course, speaking about people on generally the same level of development, without one or the other being more technologically advanced. (I already know that average human height grows along with our technological development, I wonder how environment affects that)

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean direct impact (malnourished -> shorter) or evolutionary (jungle -> can select in favour of Pygmy-like)? $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    May 26, 2021 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ Just a note: beware of stereotypes. While they can be useful when taken in moderation, they should never be taken as absolutes. There are short forest people, there are tall forest people; there are short mountain people, there are tall mountain people. There is a difference between saying that all else being equal, mountain people tend to be shorter than plains people, and saying that mountain people are shorter than plains people. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 26, 2021 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP #NotAllForestPeople ;) For practical purposes it all depends on what is their average height difference and what is standard deviation. With big enough differences you can easily get very little overlap, which with small enough populations can have no chance to meet anyone not living up to stereotype. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    May 26, 2021 at 17:20

3 Answers 3


-In islands animals usually develop to be smaller because the large ones starve and die

-Inbreeding and sexual selection can select for short people, see the Jomon tribe which evolved into modern Japanese people of today. Japanese are among the richest Asians while also being the shortest. diet is not everything. Even in the poorest places in China, people evolved from the Huaxia tribe are taller than the average Japanese.

-Inbreeding and sexual selection can select for tall people, see the Dinka tribe and all countries of germanic descent. (African germans in south africa are still tall regardless of different lifestyle and diet)

-War can select for taller humans, more than once short people were eradicated by brute force from taller enemies as height also increases strength , some may suggest that taller people are also smarter thus better at war but take that one with a grain of salt (tall people are indeed smarter but it is yet to be known if this is caused by the genes affecting height that also affect brain function or different hormonal balance or maybe tall people are simply treated better and thus have more chances to improve in society and reach higher educations so it might just be the cause of environment)

-Eating enough proteins allows humans to reach their maximum height potential. See Bosnians and Crotians, they have always had the genes to be taller but only became taller than their Balkan neighbors like the hellenes and vlachs or ugric people after indulging in modern economy. Apparently eating enough proteins is the most important factor to reach maximum genetic potential for one's height, even having mineral and vitamin deficiencies doesn't seem to affect height enough, not significantly... This because there are literally thousands of different genes which affect height, each gene differently and to a different extent, each gene gets activated in different situations... The genes affected by protein intake seem to be the most powerful in the deciding factor of height.

-Under eating and starving can make some humans grow taller and above their genetic potential due to genetic mutations caused by trauma, but those genetic mutations are rare and humans are more likelly to starve to death than become giant and only works if the trauma happens while the bone plates haven't fused and the human can still grow (Bone plates fuse and humans stop growing around the age of 14 to 21 depending on the ethnicity). though it does happen once in a while

-Living in mountains and places with low oxygen makes the muscle starve for air, constantly suffocating muscles have to work harder to do everything, that's why all mountain animals are larger than their non mountain counterpart, their muscle simply by walking are worked up as if the animal did gym work. I have no idea on the effect of bone growth.

-Tribes focused around underwater hunting (not fishing but hunting) usually favor humans with shorter legs and longer spines and necks with wider rib cages and clavicles.

-Tribes focused around hunting in forests usually evolve to be as short as possible

-Tribes focused around hunting in open plains usually evolve to have short spines and long legs

-Tribes living in cold climates usually evolve to have larger rib cages

-Sexual selection in China might have resulted in today's tall chinese people with small child feet, feet can slightly add a few millimetres to height.

-Tribes living in cold climates evolve larger rib cages, resulting in the appearance of being shorter and hobbit like

-Eugenic selection can also happen, Lifespan is inversely related to height, taller people die sooner because their organs have to work harder to keep them alive. Being 7 centimeters shorter singnificantly increase your chances of having a longer lifespan. Lifespan is not set in stone, each person is born with certain percentages of dying at certain ages, the average american has around 80% chance to die before the age of 78 for example. It is probably logical to imagine people who starve themselves to stunt their height and increase their longevity and health... because quality of life matters to... there's a difference between surviving 108 years healthy and surviving 108 years with a dozen surgeries and a few ongoing cancers. As you can see being only 7 centimetres taller can cut in half your chances of survival to and past the age of 91. In Global populations this might also mean that shorter people can accumulate more riches and help the reproduction and spread of their genes by having more money to pass on to their children and nephews. And indeed older people seem to be richer than younger adults.

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I would say that it is at best unclear.

According to this map, one can see the average height per country for a 19 years old male.

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It is worth nothing that even countries with very similar climates (i.g. Norway and Canada, or Greece and Turkey) have different heights, and the consideration that in colder climates a shorter body would be favored by a better energy saving behavior doesn't explain why northern Europeans are on average taller than Mediterraneans.

What probably play a major role is the environment in a broader sense, as climate + available resources, topped with the genetic of the local population.

It is well known the case of the pygmy people

In anthropology, pygmy peoples are ethnic groups whose average height is unusually short. The term pygmyism is used to describe the phenotype of endemic short stature (as opposed to disproportionate dwarfism occurring in isolated cases in a population) for populations in which adult men are on average less than 150 cm (4 ft 11 in) tall.

  • $\begingroup$ Good and thorough post. One question: Wouldn't War select for shorter people, because the larger ones got sent into battle and die while the shorter ones stay at home to look after the fields and fornicate? $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    May 26, 2021 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel: If the taller ones are excluded from the genepool and the genes are a major element for body height. But I doubt that's the case, if soldiers aren't specifically selected by size before they can 'fornicate'. And as said Gene's only set a frame, lifestyle during the growth period is more important for an individual, and that type of modification during a lifetime can even have a feedback to the individuals genes. $\endgroup$
    – user78828
    May 26, 2021 at 14:44

Genes set the limits, which may vary between groups (tall Massai, stout Inuit as a genereal stereotype). The most influential factor on length of longbones of an individual is nutrition, and to a degree labour style. People eating well and healthy and not needing to work very hard during their growth period grow taller, generalizing very much.

Because climate has an influence on agriculture and generally wellbeing, it can be observed that a population generally can grow taller when the environment is doing well.

So, generally, I'd say it would not be unreasonable to make the mountain dwellers a bit shorter because they need to hike and work a lot more in a harsher environment for their daily subsistence than the jungle people who just go out and pick or hunt something to eat and return to the living place for social activities :-)


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