Baku, April 9, AZERTAC
The Netherlands is the land of giants: on average, its women stand almost 1.71 metres (5 feet 7 inches) tall, and its men 1.84 metres.
But how the Dutch became the world's tallest people has been somewhat of a mystery.
After all, two centuries ago they were renowned for being among the shortest. What happened since then?
A popular explanation is nutrition -- a calorie-stuffed diet rich in meat and dairy products.
But that can't be the whole story, experts say.
Other European countries, too, have enjoyed similar prosperity and a rise in living standards, yet their citizens have not shot skywards as much.
The average male height in the Netherlands has gained 20 cm (eight inches) in the last 150 years, according to military records.
By comparison, the height of the average American man has risen a mere six cm over the same period.
Researchers led by Gert Stulp, a specialist in population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, combed a Dutch database for clues.
Called LifeLines, the record contains exhaustive detail about the lives and health of more than 94,500 people who lived in the northern the Netherlands from 1935 to 1967.
The study did not involve genetic testing, but concluded from the observations that natural selection must have played a part: with time, more and more Dutch started sporting tall genes.
"Natural selection in addition to good environmental conditions may help explain why the Dutch are so tall," said the study published Wednesday in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
"When it comes to choosing a mate, height tends to have (only) a small effect, which is not very surprising given the many other, more important, traits people value in their mate."
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