Body height and body weight – Lexicon for medicine and health

Body height and body weight

The influence of genes on the human body has been the subject of intensive scientific research for many years. Although great progress has already been made in decoding the human genome, there are still a few controversial points: what role do genes and environmental influences play in the expression of certain physical and psychological characteristics? How strongly is an individual influenced by the genes inherited from the parents and how strongly by upbringing and other external influences (e.g. nutrition)? These questions should be explained using the two physical characteristics body height and body weight . It also explains why certain ideal values ​​should not determine the relationship to one’s own body.

Factors influencing body size

The genetic material of every human being is stored in the DNA or DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, English: deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA) in the cell nucleus . DNA is made up of looped strands that are linked together by chemical building blocks. A gene is a unit in the DNA that controls the functions of the respective body cell and thus contains information about the development of an individual.

As a result, the genes determine the later physical characteristics of a person, some genes even determine psychological characteristics. There are genes that alone control the expression of a body characteristic, this is the case with eye color, for example. The evolution of height is an example of a physical trait controlled jointly by multiple genes. According to SPIEGEL ONLINE , around 180 genetic regions are known to play a role. In addition, there are even more complex areas in the human body in which a large number of genes act together. This includes intelligence and basic character traits such as empathy .

Genetics play a major role in height development . About ninety percent of a person’s height is determined by their genes. Here, the genetic make-up sets the upper limit, while environmental influences determine the last percentage. This is not only the case with body size; according to this source , mental development is also determined to a certain extent by external influences. Encouragements and motivations, as well as the opportunities that a person may or may not have throughout life, are likely to have an impact on intellectual development. Pre-existing and emerging illnesses as well as diet can also affect the development of height.

The influence of external living conditions on body size

Pre-existing conditions & emerging diseases

For a long time, the prevailing scientific view was that genes are the key factor in human development. However, the latest scientific findings in the field of epigenetics have revealed that the different characteristics of the genes can be influenced by external circumstances and sometimes even controlled in a targeted manner. These findings are explained in more detail in a French video documentary from 2015.

According to this, a scientifically accepted finding is that both the inherited genes and the environment together shape an individual. On the one hand, every human being is given certain variants of genes that enable the individual to develop certain characteristics, on the other hand, the environment can influence the switching on and off of the respective genes. Many diseases are closely linked to DNA, but according to a comprehensive study , in most cases it is still unclear which gene variants or gene mutations actually cause a disease.

Hygienic conditions

In medical and epidemiological research, there are studies that show a causal relationship between hygiene and the average height of populations. Chronic diseases, which are caused or exacerbated by poor hygienic conditions, for example, can impair growth and physical development.

Poor hygiene in sanitary facilities, which is particularly the case in some developing countries, is an important cause of the spread of bacteria that can impair the growth of children. In research, growth disorders are also often examined in connection with the aspect of malnutrition.

Available Nutrients & Nutrition

Diet has a significant impact on a person’s physical development . Humans have enzymes through which the environment influences the genes and thus the genome. However, the exact effects are difficult to measure, as they often last for decades. In addition, it is almost impossible to determine what exact influence the interaction of certain genes has.

Proteins are among the most important nutrients for the human body. Protein is one of the main nutrients, the human body needs proteins to build cells and muscles , to maintain a functioning metabolism and to ward off pathogens . People need an increased supply of protein to maintain and build up body substance, which is particularly true for children and adolescents in the growth phase.

During this time, the body must be supplied with enough high-quality protein every day. This is contained in both animal (meat, eggs, fish, cheese and other dairy products) and plant products (nuts, whole grains, beans and peas).

The explanations may lead to the assumption that an increased protein intake can have a positive effect on body growth. However, this has not been scientifically proven on the one hand, and on the other hand an increased protein intake can be harmful for small children and adolescents. If the protein supply is above the daily requirement for children (about 5 grams per kilogram of body weight), this can lead to an excessive burden on the kidneys. On the other hand, it is important to pay attention to a balanced diet ( carbohydrates , proteins, fats) in order to supply the body with all the nutrients and vitamins it needs .

Better education about a healthy and balanced diet and ongoing medical advances are the main reasons for the increase in average height and physical development.

Interesting facts from the science of auxology

The average height of the Germans – development & inventory

From the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 1970s, according to information from Deutsches Ärzteblatt , a significant increase in height and the pace of physical development can be observed in most European countries . According to this, the increase in height in adults was 1-2 centimeters (cm) per decade. Since the early 1980s, adult Europeans have grown less in size. For Germany, the corresponding value is less than 1 cm per decade.

Reasons for this development

Scientific studies suggest that even with a balanced and healthy diet and the best medical care, a person’s potential for growth is not infinite. Numerous scientific studies, including the study on the health of adults in Germany (2013) show a positive connection between social status, the state of health and behavior to maintain health, for example with regard to eating habits.

There is a broad scientific consensus that there is a positive correlation between height development and socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status is a social science term and includes a number of characteristics of human living conditions. This includes the following aspects, among others:

  • Education and school leaving certificate as well as training or studies
  • occupation and income
  • Place of residence and economic situation (ownership)
  • possession of cultural assets
  • Opportunities to participate in cultural life (visit theater performances and exhibitions in museums, etc.)

Despite the well-documented association between physical development and socioeconomic status, diet, and psycho-social influences (mental and emotional stress), it is not clear how these factors influence the biological mechanisms relevant to body growth.

Body Positivity – A healthy relationship with one’s own body

A healthy body weight cannot be expressed in numbers alone. You should also have a positive attitude towards your own body. This is a prerequisite for a healthy body image to develop and for measures to take effect.

Beauty ideals are defined by the respective society, they are constantly changing. From an individual point of view, the beauty of the body is not always the actual goal of measures. It is a means to an end to express highly respected modern societal values ​​such as individuality, achievement, flexibility and freedom. Media, advertising and the fashion and consumer goods industries play an important role in the creation and dissemination of ideals of beauty.

Social networks reinforce this effect, they offer a platform on which people can present themselves as ideal. In this way, children and young people in particular come into closer contact with the various ideals of beauty, for example in relation to height and weight, than was the case a few years ago.

In addition to this confrontation from outside, young people are also influenced to some extent by their parents: sticking to what you might call a “permanent diet” in order to get closer to a certain level of performance and health in work and everyday life has become an important aspect of individual ( western) lifestyle developed. Through these attitudes and behaviors, parents influence their children in addition to external pressure and help to solidify certain ideals.

If more and more young people are guided by these usually unattainable ideals of beauty, this can lead to them perceiving their bodies “wrongly”, as the psychoanalyst Susie Orbach explains in this interview . This can have a negative impact on their self-esteem. In this context, a distinction must be made between a positive, neutral and negative body image:

Positive body image:

The person feels comfortable in their body, is content with it and takes care of their physical needs. This is often accompanied by beneficial behavior, including a balanced and healthy diet and sufficient exercise.

Neutral body image:

Here the person is not completely satisfied with their body, but this is not overly disruptive to their overall positive self-image.

Negative body image:

A negative body image is an expression of dissatisfaction with one’s own body. Individual parts of the body or the entire body can be rejected. This isn’t just true for overweight or underweight people, negative body image can also become entrenched in people of normal weight.

The term “body image” bridges the gap between subjective feelings about one’s own body and the influence of interaction with other individuals. This creates a connection to society. In order to be able to positively address body diversity, unrealistic ideals of beauty must be broken down. It is important to raise public awareness of this topic. A critical approach to the ideal images conveyed by the respective society promotes subjective awareness both with regard to the general variety of bodies and to one’s own body.

Positive body diversity in women

There are socially constructed ideal images, the ideal body does not exist. This statement refers on the one hand to the individual acceptance of one’s own body and on the other hand to the social acceptance of different bodies or body shapes.

Every society has its own idea of ​​what it means to be beautiful. A campaign is presented on that is intended to encourage and empower women not only to accept their own bodies, but to learn to love them and to recognize their individual beauty. As part of “Project WomanKIND” (translated as “Project Woman’s World”), five Australian models who have been discriminated against several times in their job because of their respective figures report how they met the sometimes derogatory comments with self-confidence.

Positive body diversity in men

There are four basic body types in males:

1) Tall men

2) Short men

3) Strong neck

4) Strong abdominal circumference

Each of these figure types has certain characteristics, in this context the term “problem areas” is often used. However, these supposed flaws are comparatively unimportant; what matters is the overall picture, which is determined by the interaction of all body parts. Accordingly, it is not the local problem areas that are decisive for the appearance, but the body proportions. By compiling and explaining the various figure types listed under this link , the individual proportions of men can be better assessed.

If a man recognizes himself in one of the figure types, there are various possibilities in fashion to bring the respective body proportions into a harmonious balance through certain cuts, materials, colours, fabrics and patterns.

Height as an example of gender differences

There are clear physical differences between men and women. This can be demonstrated, for example, using height, as can be seen in this table of countries . Accordingly, the current average height of the male population in Germany is 1.80 meters.

On average, women are nine centimeters shorter (1.71 meters). Height as a physical characteristic generally has a certain range, there are short men as well as tall women. Nevertheless, it can be stated that the proportion of women among the smallest people is significantly higher, while among the tallest people worldwide, the number of men predominates.

Nowadays, a large body size is desirable, this suggests persuasiveness, a stronger self-confidence and thus more success in life, for example at work. In most cases, however, significant deviations in size, both upwards and downwards, are not associated with positive associations, but rather with major challenges in everyday life.

Human anatomy: short stature & tall stature

In every society there are certain norms for every area of ​​life. Two examples: Social norms provide guidelines and orientation for people to live together. Norms for certain standards in the respective economic sectors or in the industries are intended, among other things, to guarantee a certain level of security. There are also certain norms with regard to body size, which are expressed, for example, by the prevailing average size of the population. It is difficult to express deviations from this norm in precise measurements because the average height of people is constantly changing.

Regarding the deviations in body size, there is talk of short stature and tall stature. When defining these two forms of growth, according to Planet Knowledge , a distinction is made between the sexes. Adult women who do not exceed a height of about 1.50 meters are considered to be of short stature. This is already the case for men under a height of 1.65 meters.

Tall and tall people include women who are taller than 1.83 meters. The corresponding value for males is 1.95 meters. In addition to the gender distinction, a distinction is made between the normal and the extreme form of short and tall stature. The extreme form of short stature is reached when the height is less than 1.50 meters. At the other end of the scale, there is talk of gigantism, or gigantism , when people are over two meters tall.

Short and tall people usually attract attention. The feeling of being constantly watched can become a permanent psychological and physical burden. In addition, people with extreme forms of growth are confronted with a variety of challenges and problems in everyday life and in professional life, for example when choosing the right clothing, furnishing their home or with the conditions at work. In addition, there are health restrictions such as back and joint problems that occur relatively frequently or impairments as a result of incorrect posture.

In people with body sizes outside the norm, the metabolism and the organs have to work harder than in people with a “normal” body size. However, health problems due to physical peculiarities do not only occur in people of short or tall stature; overweight people also have an increased risk of many chronic diseases. The so-called body mass index is a well-known guideline to determine whether a person is underweight, normal weight or overweight.

Body Mass Index (BMI) – a guideline value for the ratio of body weight to height

Information on body weight must always be evaluated subjectively. People can feel overweight when their weight is medically fine.

The so-called body mass index (MBI) is a guide value that determines the ratio of body weight to height. The BMI is calculated from the body weight (kg) divided by the square of the height (m²). The corresponding formula is

The recommended BMI value depends on the age of the person. The following table shows the BMI values ​​for different age groups:

Restrictions and criticism of the BMI

The body mass index is only to be understood as a rough guide. According to this article, the BMI is increasingly being criticized in science as a measuring instrument.

Reason: Serious investigations into human health have to take numerous factors into account, so the complex issue of health prognosis cannot be expressed with a simple mathematical calculation. The BMI only evaluates a person’s body weight in relation to their height. Other important factors such as gender or body type are not taken into account. With the above formula, however, no reliable statements can be made about the body fat and muscle percentage and the distribution in the body.

An alternative concept – The ABSI (“A Body Shape Index”)

The two American scientists Nir and Jesse Krakauer have developed an alternative measuring method for health prognosis. The so-called “A Body Shape Index” (ABSI) takes into account not only height and body weight but also waist circumference. It is a more complex calculation method than the relatively simple calculation for the body mass index.

Advantages over BMI

By taking the abdominal circumference into account, the “A Body Shape Index” (ABSI) has more information about the individual physique than the body mass index. Excess fat deposits are not always harmful to health, but according to current scientific studies, an increased proportion of fat in the abdomen is said to promote the development of various diseases such as diabetes , high blood pressure or dyslipidemia .

By determining the ABSI value, it is possible to assess more precisely whether there is an increased health risk due to a certain body fat distribution. The disadvantage of the ABSI is that it is based on a complicated formula and ignores important factors such as possible previous illnesses.


A complex interplay of different genes is responsible for the expression of body size. So far, researchers have only been able to genetically explain a small part of the size differences, the DNA decoding remains the subject of scientific research. The individual expression of physical characteristics such as body size or body weight are also influenced by environmental factors.Ultimately, however, it is not the genes that determine the relationship to one’s own body. Acquiring a positive body feeling is not an easy task, but it is an important step in not only being able to accept your own body, but also being able to love it.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.