Diet and physical stature

3 min readApr 27


The importance of animal protein

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Human height is a simple but useful biological marker of physical development because it factors in multiple variables, such as nutrition and socio-economic circumstances.

A 2020 publication “Nutritional and socio-economic predictors of adult height in 152 world populations” tasked itself with determining the strongest predictors of height.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation maintains a comprehensive database of food production across countries. Allowing for variables such as trade and food waste, food consumption was estimated from food production at the population level, and broken down into food groups. Socio-economic variables were drawn from a database maintained by the World Bank. Most countries survey physical characteristics of their populations, including height.

Perhaps surprisingly, economic wealth at the country level was only a mediocre correlate of physical growth. Nutrition had the strongest predictive value, and the strongest overall predictor was dairy protein.

Dairy is a complete food. New-born mammals depend on milk until weaned so it needs to be complete (all essential amino acids, fatty acids etc). As well, dairy contains nutrients that are important for bone growth (e.g. calcium, phosphorous). Plant-based milk substitutes are nutritionally incomplete.

There was a dramatic increase in stature among Europeans ~3,000 years BCE, thought to be due to the spread of lactose tolerance in the population enabling increaslingly regular year-round dairy consumption.

Other contributing factors were total calories, pork, eggs and potatoes. Eggs are also a complete food (an egg has to contain everything needed to make a chick).

In contrast, protein from rice and legumes correlated negatively with height.

A study of this kind comes with many caveats, and I’m not going to offer a critique (there are many). However, what I thought was striking was the strength of the association between predominantly animal proteins and physical stature. Here is their figure for male height and combined dairy, pork, eggs and potatoes.

For a study spanning 152 culturally diverse nations and territories, this seems like a particularly strong association.

It attests to the primary importance of animal protein for human physical development. Based on their findings the authors concluded that current WHO protein recommendations for children were inadequate. Combined with the push away from animal-based foods in western countries and toward plant-based proteins (which showed a negative association with height), we can expect a decline in nutrient availability and physical growth to be a defining trend for our Age. This is unacceptable.

It’s child abuse to deprive children of the nutrients they need to grow properly and to be robust rather than fat and depressed. Scaring children away from animal foods at an early and vulnerable age sets them up for a lifetime of metabolic ill-health and chronic disease.

Still, Big Pharma and Big Medicine get a lifetime supply of clients to keep their industrial machinery running. Big Ag and Big Food feed into the client-supply side. Big Gov oils the machinery by subsidising environmentally-damaging Big Ag monocropping so that Big Food can make cheep and addictive processed edibles, by promoting dietary campaigns that setup ill-health, by creating agencies funded by Big Pharma with the pretence of regulating their drugs. and by building bigger hospitals to cope with the inevitable human fallout.

Even allowing for population growth, a big new children’s hospital is not a political triumph, it’s a public health failure.

Further reading: Lactose intolerance




Science of cooking, eating and health. Retired neuroscientist.