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Why are Asian’s Short in Stature?

After spending hours going over paperwork, I was ready to sign the lease of my new San Francisco apartment. The property owners, Bill and Virginia, a delightful Caucasian couple well into their 80s, were just about the nicest and sweet couple you’d ever meet. As we wrapped up, Bill walked us out the apartment and as we approached the the top of the driveway, Bill stopped and asked me and my six-foot-tall Chinese house mates:

Bill: I met a lot of Chinese people in the past.

[As soon as I heard Chinese, I thought: Here it comes, Bill’s 81-year old ass, after decades of tumultuous race relations is going to drop the chink bomb]

Bill: How did you three get so tall? Everyone else I know is tiny.

Me: It’s the milk…

Bill didn’t mean any offense, but it lead me to think: Yeah! Why are Asian’s so short?

In the story of creation, it’s not like Asians landed on double-zero in a game of height roulette. After all, whether you’re Yellow, Black, White or Brown we all share the same lineage. When our Homo Erectus ancestors left Africa, it’s not like the tall ones decided to go to Europe and the short ones to Asia. Instead, the reason is most likely due to the environmental and human encounters to follow.

Cases for natural selection as illustrated by the Peppered Moth lend credence that we are the products of our environment. The black peppered moth, commonly found in England, thrived at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. As factories and industry rose in England, the ensuing pollution led to a biological advantage for dark colored moths which were now camoflouged from predators. The natural advantage, or ‘selection’ eventually allowed dark colored moths to flourish throughout industrial England.

So what’s unique about the Asian environment that could explain the vast difference in average Asian heights?

YouTube blogger DeStorm (I could have cited an academic, but where’s the fun? His take is at the 5:35 in the YouTube video below) posits that the reason African-Americans being bigger, faster and stronger is rooted from some Darwinian aftereffects of slavery. Plantation owners and slave owners needed slaves for heavy labor, so therefore drove the demand for stronger, faster, and bigger slaves to work the plantations.

As for Caucasians? Scandinavians are just about the tallest peoples I can think of. From the little bit of European history I know, the Viking invasions and conquests in Continental Europe meant that these tall and strong Vikings intermixed and intermingled with the rest of Europe as their conquests brought them  in contact with the natives of modern England, -France, -Germany and -Russia and spreading their tallness throughout Europe for centuries to come.

What’s up with the Asians then? When you look at the last 5,000 of Asian history, Asia was neither invaded by giants nor practiced any institution (like American slavery) that instilled eugenic side-effects for height. Instead, Asia maintains a long and agriculturalist history. And what did Asians farm? Rice! While a staple in the world’s food supply, when compared to cereal crop’s oat and wheat native to Europe, rice pales in comparison in the amount of protein  per serving. Protein, a crucial compound in biological growth, isn’t as rich in rice as other cereals.

Ultimately, the reason why Asians are shorter boils down to two environmental factors. First, Asian’s just never intermixed with any taller peoples (at least not until the yellow fever epidemic 🙂 ). Second, Asia’s farming history and dependence on rice meant that Asian’s took in, on average, less protein than any other peoples. Sure, every now and then, you get an outlier like Yao Ming but I’m speaking in general here. But as to why I’m tall? It’s the milk 🙂

If you have a completely different theory, please feel free to voice your opinion freely in the comments.

24 Comments on "Why are Asian’s Short in Stature?"

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  4. Matt says:

    In ancient times, when East Asia was a series of warring states, an intimidation tactic used was to put the biggest, tallest men at the front of the battle line to give a more powerful image. It was the young men who typically did the fighting, while marriage and procreation were relatively expensive endevours that usually couldn’t be done till a bit older. It doesn’t take a military stratagist to know that being on the front lines means you’re far more likely to die. The result of this strategy was that successive generations of the largest, tallest, most intimidating-looking young men were wiped out before reaching child-bearing age.

  5. Eli Anam Akussah says:

    Some of you guys are just sad blabbers, everyone knows that Chinese are short, as in their average height is low. I live in South Africa and Ghana and the majority of the Chinese I’ve seen are short.That’s just a known fact. Ask anyone from any other country and they’ll tell you the same thing. So just accept it and eat more meat and less Sushi if you want to grow. LOL!

  6. Eli Anam Akussah says:

    You guys are just sad blabbers,everyone knows that Asians are short! I live in South Africa and Ghana and all the Asians there are short. Just get over yourselves and eat more meat!

  7. dk says:

    I think MAINLY it IS rice for a majority of the population. Why? It’s because the glycemic index of rice is higher. Meaning that large amount of sugar is quickly converted in the blood, and that means more insulin is needed. More insulin interfere with growth hormone. Some obvious evidents, Mongolians are generally bigger, why? Their diet are mainly meat, milk, and dairy products. And the Mongolians are like the Vikings in terms of fighting. Northern Chinese are taller because wheat is mainly grown up north, and wheat has less glycemic index than rice. Unless you are a construction worker, eating rice and lots of exercises,(induce more insulin) can help keep the insulin level balanced. The more you exercise, the better your rest is, the better your growth hormone is at work. Otherwise your continual secretion of insulin to convert sugar interferes with your growth hormone. If you look at Mexican, even some are shorter in stature, and you noticed that rice is in their diet as well, but that’s just one aspect of it, I’m not saying it MUST be rice. Also culturally, there seems to be a lot of stress in Asian culture as kids growing up in families where “traditional” thinking puts a lot or burden on kids. Stress can cause a different types of hormonal secretion and interfere with normal growth hormone. Conclusion, it’s the environment. Agree with Andrew and Will. Yes Genes play a role, but without a high glycemic index food as your main stable, at least you won’t be stunt at growth during young age! Notice some American born Asians are bigger and taller? Heck, even some Asia born Asians are now taller because they don’t always eat rice and eat more seafood and steak! So if you don’t want your kids to be short, don’t feed them rice everyday. At least brown rice or long grain where the glycemic index is not as high.

  8. William says:


    Dude, I am taller than you. It’s not the milk. I was a formula baby. It’s not the rice. I ate a ton of rice. It is not because I am northern. My parents are 100% chinese from the south. I am not bad at math. I am horrific at math. My hair is not straight. It’s curly.

    What an idiot.

  9. Mai says:

    I am Hmong (they’re a hill tribe from Southeast Asia) and I’m the tallest girl in my family (5’6″). It’s mostly based on genes. My maternal grandfather is taller than me, (5’9″ maybe) and my grandmother is probably 4’9″ maybe less. My paternal grandfather is pretty tall, and my grandmother is also short. My dad’s younger brother is about six feet, and one of my mom’s younger brother is also six feet. My mom is 4’11” and my father is about 5’4″. So a lot of it does have to do with genes. Two of my brothers and I are the only tall ones in our family. So yeah, a lot of it does boil down to genes.

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  11. chang says:

    Height mostly is genetic, with there some environmental-dependent selection as well. One component has to do with tropical climates and a shorter body being more effective at dissipating heat. Obviously the post was written tongue in cheek about a cliche stereotype. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048786/

  12. TOTOLY says:

    Well it also has a lot to do with culture/selective breeding. Different cultures value different attributes. For instance Africans and Vikings valued physical dominance and had a warrior dominant culture. Many Africans groups had a much longer hunter gatherer culture than other societies so not only did the most physically dominant warriors have the breeding advantage, their very survival depended on being physically adept.

    Asians on the other hand were more agricultural, domesticated livestock earlier, and enacted a complex civilization earlier. So very early on in many Asian cultures, being physically strong was actually looked down upon because it was the mark of a laborer, hence it was fashionable be pale and to grow long nails. The wealthy and scholarly were at the top of society while laborers were at the bottom and with it came very high mortality rates.

  13. Heronimous says:

    Nice blog and I enjoyed the video. I just wanted to add some facts: 60-80% of height is determined by genes. This is a result of studying twins. You are right that diet is important, as well as general health. Like others have pointed out the theory about slavery having a positive eugenic effect is suspect. There may be a marginal effect there. My pet theory is that there are positive new traits that come from genetic mixtures and Africans in the new world were thoroughly mixed with other Africans as well as Europeans (not as much as people tend to think). This might explain the physical prowess of us black folk. I’m Jamaican and it is well-known that we are faster than the average human. Faster, even, than our fellow Africans. Let’s just remember that while race marks a difference it is not always a very significant difference. And there can be significant differences within racial populations (which in the end are rather arbitrary). After all, Africans are among the tallest (some tribes in Sudan) AND among the shortest (pygmies). Also if you look at average height data over time, whole nations can get significantly taller or shorter over just a few generations. Peace . . .

  14. Lucas says:

    why do people think black people are strong and asians are short im half japanese half manx (isle of man) and im 6’5″ tall at age 15 and the strongest in my school im not black and just because im asian doesent mean im short

  15. HotBoy says:

    Great man, and the video is awesome.

  16. Anon says:

    It’s great when random people without any sort of credibility can spew this nonsense. Anyone can theorize about stuff, but it takes actual research to do it well. It becomes clear that the author didn’t bother to do any right when he says “our Homo Erectus ancestors left Africa”. Yep, that’s a good one.

    Of course, it only gets better when he cites a random YouTube blogger who spouts out some slavery eugenics junk. If this hypothesis were right, then we should witness a significant difference between the speed, power, etc. of African-Americans vs. Africans, because African-Americans were subjected to this slavery eugenics effect. However, there’s not any evidence to suggest that African-Americans are significantly different from Africans in these traits, which debunks the idea of a slavery eugenics effect.

    Furthermore, while protein intake might account for some height variation, it is not enough to account for the height disparities between Asians and the rest of the world. Consider Asian-Americans assimilated to American culture (i.e., they generally have adopted the American lifestyle). Are they generally significantly taller than their Asian counterparts because they eat like Americans? No. Human growth depends on human growth hormone, and just the mere intake of more protein does not thereby supply the body with more HGH.

  17. Andrew says:

    You’re forgetting that Northern Chinese and Koreans tend to be tall (6 ft +) because of the grains and wheat (bread basically) in their diets. And yes, having rice as the majority of your diet kinda sucks – little to no protein!

    Although you speak truth from your opinion and I’ll respect that, what was said here was very, very general and superficial.

  18. Will says:

    Yeah they’re random assumptions that myself and my future land owner made. You do have a point though in the logic you mention. Are Asian’s really shorter, or is it just perception?

  19. school says:

    You are very much way off the mark on this, so I might suggest never talking about this again.

    There are many short Asians in Asia. But at the same time “Asians” are not short..

    You might have some probable points in terms of diet but everything else are just wild assumptions you are throwing out there.

    But this is just not your kind of topic.

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