A recent food-based documentary I was watching on Netflix which was hosted by Anthony Bourdain on Colombia (Parts Unknown Season 1, Episode 3) made me start to wonder whether there was any correlation between living and growing up in different altitudes and its effect on stature. We know that Bourdain is a rather large man who is at least 6′ 4″, although he can look even 6′ 5″. In the show, when he was walking around the Colombian market places, he looked like an absolute giant compared to the local Colombians. That got me wondering.
I have noticed over the years the trend that people from the Andean Mountain regions, like Peru, Chile, and Bolivia were found to be quite small in stature, even relative to the regions and ethnic groups found in South America.
There was a famous story years ago about this mummified skeletal remains of an adult female who was said to be around 2-3 feet tall. I can’t find the source to this story on the internet. Maybe you guys the readers can find the story that I am talking about.
So I wanted to see whether that is any scientific studies that might verify this idea of mine that people who are born, grew up, and raised in geographic regions where it is of high altitude tend to be slightly shorter than people born, say, from a region that is at sea level.
A quick search on PubMed does reveal at least 3 studies which suggest this idea might be true.
- The effect of high altitude on the growth of children of high socioeconomic status in Bolivia.
- Effect of altitude on the physical growth of upper-class children of European ancestry.
- The physical growth of urban children at high altitude.
The abstract from the first study does show that if a child was born, and lived their whole life in high elevation, at least in La Paz, Bolivia, they tend to be shorter than children who spent less time there.
The 2nd study says that the hypoxia (low oxygen levels) that is caused by the higher elevation can cause stunted growth within boys and girls of upwards of 3 cms on average.
The 3rd study says that children who lived in the city were found to be consistently taller than indigenious children who lived in the countryside in high altitudes. However these same children were found to be about the same height as children from Peru who lived in the cities who are at high altitudes. The rest of the abstract was difficult to figure out what were the conclusions they have reached.
I made a special to realize that all of these 3 studies done on mostly indigenious children in Bolivia was in the early 1980s, more than 30 years ago.
However the implications of these studies can still relevant.
If you wish for your children to maximize their growth potential, it might not be a wise decision for them to grow up in regions of high altitude.
From a physiological perspective, the only possible explanation on why children who are completely born and raised in high altitude regions come out shorter is because of the lower levels of oxygen that they gain.
In fact, since they are raise in regions with higher altitudes, the effect of gravity on them should be much less. Remember that water boils at a much lower temperature in high altitudes, instead of the usual 100 Degrees Celsius needed for the water molecules to overcome the 1 atm of atmospheric pressure.
If we were able to make the region full of oxygen that is saturated, I would guess that children who grew up in higher altitudes should in fact turn out taller.
Let’s remember still that the stereotypically tall ethnic group of the Dutch in the Netherlands live in a country that is very close to sea level. The Netherlands is half surrounded by water, and very low and close to sea level. Of course, that logic wouldn’t explain why people from Bangladesh, which is even more saturated and closer to sea level are not tall. So we can forget this argument.
There has been enough anecdotal evidence and studies that showed that the children who often grew the tallest are the ones who were raised in a suburban area, not urban or rural. They get the balance of good nutrition, healthcare, and great services from living close enough to the city/civilization, but also get the benefit of having the natural benefits of being close to nature, trees, fresher air and more oxygen, and better water.
However, if you are looking to see which group of children would end up as adults to be more stocky, with wider bodies and broader shoulders, it would be children who were born and raised in rural regions. I have personally noticed from my road trips through Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and other states in the Mid-West that white american children who grew up in places like Iowa, Nebraska, and similar type states turn out to be not just above average in height, but also very wide, and stocky.
The main takeaway from this post: It is most beneficial to raise one’s children closer to sea level, in a region that has plenty of nature, trees, oxygen, and water, in a suburban area, away from the city.