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Women’s Height and Weight Averages in the US and Globally

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In the United States, women have seen a steady increase in their average height. Today's average female height is about 5 feet 4 inches (or approximately 63.7 inches) tall. At the same time, the average weight is 170.6 pounds, reflecting a notable change in body structure from previous generations. This growth has been observed over the years, reflecting shifts in the physical stature of women across the nation.

A Glimpse into the Past: Women in the 1960s

Half a century ago, in the 1960s, the typical woman aged 20 to 74 stood at 63.1 inches tall and weighed about 140.2 pounds. Comparing these statistics to the present day, it's evident that the female body has undergone a considerable transformation.

The Height-Weight Disparity: Exploring the Causes

Interestingly, the increase in height has been outpaced by the growth in weight. To understand the reasons behind this phenomenon and discover ways to maintain a healthy range, it's crucial to delve deeper into the factors influencing these changes.

Make sure to read our article on average men's height.

Average Female Height in the U.S. by Ethnicity

The average height of women in the United States varies across different ethnic groups. Based on data from the 2015-2018 NHANES, the mean heights for women in five distinct ethnic categories are as follows:

Women's Height by Ethnicity in the U.S.

EthnicityMean Height in InchesMean Height in Centimeters
Non-Hispanic White63.9 in (5 ft 3.9 in)162.4 cm
Non-Hispanic Black64 in (5 ft 4 in)162.5 cm
Non-Hispanic Asian61.5 in (5 ft 1.5 in)156.3 cm
Hispanic62 in (5 ft 2 in)157.5 cm
Mexican American61.7 in (5 ft 1.7 in)156.8 cm

These statistics highlight the diversity of female heights within the U.S., illustrating variations across ethnic backgrounds.

Average Female Height Worldwide

While growth rates have stagnated in some regions, other parts of the world, such as South Korea, are witnessing significant increases in average height. Research indicates that South Korean women have experienced an average height gain of nearly eight inches over the past century.

Shortest Average Heights Worldwide

In 1996, Guatemala held the record for the shortest average height for women at 58.8 inches, or just below 4 feet 11 inches. Closely following were the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Nepal, where women's average heights hovered around 59.4 inches.

Tallest Average Heights Across the Globe

Conversely, the tallest women can be found in countries such as Latvia, the Netherlands, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. In these nations, the average height surpasses 66 inches, or approximately 5 feet 6 inches, showcasing a striking contrast in height distribution across the globe.

Mean Female Height by Country

CountryMean Height in InchesMean Height in Centimeters
Argentina62.7 in (5 ft 2.7 in)159.2 cm
Australia65.3 in (5 ft 5.3 in)165.9 cm
Bermuda63.3 in (5 ft 3.3 in)160.7 cm
China62.9 in (5 ft 2.9 in)159.7 cm
Ethiopia61.3 in (5 ft 1.3 in)155.7 cm
India60.1 in (5 ft 0.1 in)152.6 cm
Mexico61.8 in (5 ft 1.8 in)156.9 cm
Nigeria61.5 in (5 ft 1.5 in)156.3 cm
North Korea62.6 in (5 ft 2.6 in)159.0 cm
Russia65.1 in (5 ft 5.1 in)165.3 cm
South Asia60.4 in (5 ft 0.4 in)153.3 cm
United Kingdom64.7 in (5 ft 4.7 in)164.4 cm

Our World Data also indicates that women's heights have increased globally over the past century, with some countries experiencing gains of more than 12 cm (approximately 4.7 inches) in women's heights during this time.

Height Changes Over Time

To understand how women's height has evolved over the years, it's essential to examine earlier surveys. In the early 1900s, women aged 20 to 29 reportedly had an average height of 62.4 inches.

Since then, there have been notable changes, with women generally growing taller. By 1955, the average height for women had reached 64.3 inches, an increase of nearly two inches compared to half a century earlier.

The accuracy of historical surveys is somewhat uncertain, as subjects wore shoes during measurements. Since the 1960s, however, measurements have been conducted without shoes, which arguably makes them more precise.

Future Height Trends

It is unlikely that women will continue to grow taller indefinitely. Improved health and nutrition, which contributed significantly to the increase in average height, have limitations. Many experts believe that height potential may have already reached its peak.

Furthermore, immigration can impact changes in height over time within a specific region, as people from areas with shorter average heights join the population.

Factors that Affect Height

Height is influenced by various factors, including genetics, nutrition, illness, and geographic factors. While genetics plays a significant role in determining a person's height, other factors can also contribute.

Genetics:

Genetics plays a crucial role in determining an individual's height, as it accounts for a significant proportion of the variation in height between individuals. Height is influenced by a complex interplay of multiple genes, with over 700 genetic variants identified that are associated with it. Some of these genes play a role in bone growth and development, while others influence hormonal regulation or other biological processes that impact height. By studying these genetic variants, scientists aim to better understand the biological mechanisms that regulate height and potentially develop new treatments for growth disorders.

Nutrition:

Proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence is essential for achieving maximum height potential. A diet rich in high-quality proteins, calcium, and vitamin D is crucial for promoting bone growth and development. Protein is particularly important for building and repairing tissues, including bone tissue, while calcium and vitamin D are vital for bone mineralization and strength. The first two years of life are particularly critical for ensuring adequate nutrition and promoting optimal growth, while malnutrition or undernourishment during this period can lead to permanent growth deficits.

Illness:

Illnesses can also impact height development, particularly those that affect food intake or absorption. Infections that cause diarrhea, respiratory infections, and certain diseases can hinder growth and decrease height potential. Ensuring good health and preventing illness during childhood and adolescence are important factors in allowing individuals to reach their maximum height potential.

Geography:

Geographic factors can play a role in determining height. For instance, the duration of sunlight throughout the day can affect thyroid hormones, which in turn impact height. Additionally, variations in diet, lifestyle, and access to healthcare across different regions can influence height outcomes. It is important to recognize that while geographic factors can contribute to height differences, genetics remains the most significant factor in determining an individual's height.

Height and Weight: Understanding the Connection

The average body mass index (BMI) for American women in 2016 was 29.6, which falls within the overweight category. Comparatively, the average BMI in 1999 was 28.2.

Calculating BMI: A Guideline for Adults and Children

BMI can be calculated using specific formulas designed for adults and children. The resulting values are classified into different categories:

  • Underweight: below 18.5
  • Healthy: 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: 25 to 29.9
  • Obese: 30 and above

The Limitations of BMI as a Health Indicator

While BMI serves as a useful guideline, it may not accurately represent the health of all individuals. One significant limitation is its inability to account for fat distribution within the body.

Women with high levels of physical activity, such as athletes, may have increased muscle mass, which can lead to an overestimation of their BMI. On the other hand, older women tend to store more body fat than their younger counterparts, potentially resulting in an underestimated BMI when using the standard formula.

Taking a Holistic Approach to Health

If concerns arise regarding weight or BMI, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional who can assess the broader context of an individual's health and provide tailored guidance.

Height-Weight Balance: The Health Implications

The correlation between height and weight plays a crucial role in overall health, with researchers linking height to factors such as potential longevity and reduced risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Health Risks Associated with Imbalanced Weight

A disproportionate weight-to-height ratio can contribute to various health issues, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Moreover, an increased waistline could lead to:

  • Certain types of cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Sleep apnea

Fertility and Pregnancy Challenges

Women who are either underweight or overweight may face increased complications during pregnancy. Being underweight heightens the risk of delivering a baby with low birth weight, while higher BMI values are associated with gestational diabetes, preterm birth, and high blood pressure.

Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can have long-lasting consequences for both mother and child. Furthermore, being overweight or underweight can impact fertility, making conception and maintaining a pregnancy more challenging.

Strategies for Effective Weight Management

The rising prevalence of processed and fast foods has contributed to the increase in average weight among American women. Adopting a balanced approach to weight management is essential for overall health and well-being.

Consult with a Healthcare Professional

If previous weight loss attempts have been unsuccessful, consider discussing a tailored plan with your doctor to suit your lifestyle.

Opt for Whole Foods

When shopping for groceries, prioritize whole foods found along the store's perimeter rather than packaged items in the center aisles. Focus on:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Lean proteins
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water can contribute to weight loss by promoting calorie burning and reducing appetite. While individual requirements may vary, women should aim for approximately 11.5 cups of fluids daily.

Incorporate Regular Physical Activity

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend women engage in 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Moderate activities include walking, yoga, and gardening, while vigorous activities encompass sports such as running and cycling.

Maintain a Food Diary

Recording daily food and beverage intake, as well as emotions related to eating, can help identify weaknesses in your diet, curb bad habits, and facilitate discussions with your healthcare provider.

Seek Emotional Support

Recognize the emotional aspects of food and diet by reaching out to support groups like Overeaters Anonymous. These groups can offer valuable assistance for individuals coping with eating disorders, including compulsive overeating, anorexia nervosa, food addiction, and bulimia.

The Bottom Line

The average height of women serves as a means to monitor general health and living conditions within a population, yet it is not the sole factor to consider. A woman's height is determined by a combination of genetics and environmental factors, such as nutrition, and physical and mental health. As an adult woman, there may not be much you can do about your height, but striving for a healthy BMI is achievable. However, it's important to remember that BMI may not always be the most reliable indicator of your health. Consulting with your doctor can provide personalized information and assistance in creating a suitable eating and exercise plan. Don't forget to consume healthy, whole foods, stay hydrated, and engage in physical activity to maintain optimal health.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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