Science & Environment

What's life like being extremely tall or short?

Tape measure
Image caption Tall and short statures do have their advantages

New research has confirmed that Dutch men are the tallest in the world and Guatemalan women are the world's shortest.

Differences in height across the globe can partially be explained by genetics, but healthcare, sanitation and nutrition also play an important role.

Research says there's a longer life expectancy for tall people, although they also face a bigger risk for certain cancers.

But a person's stature affects more than their health. Short and tall people face daily challenges from finding the right clothes, to fitting into plane seats.

What's life like for taller people?

Image caption Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson, 34, BBC business presenter

  • Height: 6 ft 6.5 in (199 cm)
  • From Burnley, England
  • Background: one-quarter Dutch

On the whole being tall has been more advantageous that not.

I was pretty average until the penultimate year of secondary school. But I was self-conscious already, and then suddenly I became the really tall self-conscious teenager where I struggled to find clothes to fit. All I wanted to do was blend in.

I love it now. I still get all the same jokes. Most people are well-meaning. It's useful because people remember you.

Does being tall affect your work?

When I was a correspondent in Dubai I covered the opening of Palm Islands and I was meant to interview Kylie. It was a red carpet event, and I wanted both of us in the shot. She is much shorter than me so I was crouching so that we could both fit in the camera frame. But the interview went on too long. By the end I was physically shaking because my legs were giving way. The newsroom thought I was hyperventilating with excitement because I had met Kylie.

Image caption Sophie Roell with family

Sophie Roell, 45, editor of

  • Height: 6ft (183 cm)
  • From the Netherlands
  • Lives in England

When I was at school it I would always beat the boys at running races because I had longer legs. At 13 I was already the same height as I am now. At that age, you already don't feel self-confident, so being much taller was difficult.

The real problem was with my feet because they are so large. At age 12 my shoe size was 44 (European). People would tell me I had to go to men's shops to find shoes.

In the past whenever I found shoes that fitted me I'd buy them, but now I have more choice and can order things online.

Image caption Frederik Verweij

Frederik Verweij, 31, Curie Institute cancer biologist

  • 6ft 6.7in (2m)
  • From Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • Lives in Paris

In primary school when we did a line up for gym I was always one of the tallest. But in the Netherlands, most people are tall so I wasn't very aware of my height. Some of the old buildings at home still have low doorways but now there is a new regulation which states they must be over 2m.

I did live in Madrid for a bit and I had a lot of trouble because the metro is short. Paris is better, although I can't stand up fully in the elevator at work!

What's life like for shorter people?

Image caption Patricia Chio Joyanaz

Patricia Chio Joyanaz, 36, Arabic student

  • Height: 4ft 10.7in (149cm)
  • From Mexico City, Mexico

I was always the smallest person in my class at school, but in Mexico many people are short. My whole family is tiny, we are like the "Polly Pocket" family.

As a teenager and throughout college I wore high heels to make myself taller. When I started working I felt like wearing heels gave me more authority.

When I arrived in the Middle East to study, I thought "Wow, these are the tallest people." I felt like I didn't fit in because even the kids were taller than me! In countries where people are short, I fit - but in the Middle East I felt out of place.

Once in Lebanon, I overheard a kid telling his dad how short I was. He said: "Dad she is so small even my sister who is 8-years-old is taller than her!"

My husband is 177cm (5ft 9in). Its never an issue unless we are dancing. I don't feel confident unless I'm wearing heels!

Image caption Bernie Figueroa

Bernie Figueroa, 53, senior communications specialist

  • Height: 5ft 6in (168cm)
  • From Puerto Rico
  • Lives in Florida, USA

Growing up I was a smaller kid- short and skinny. Until my late 20s I had to buy clothes in the boys department instead of the men's because those were the only clothes that fitted.

Because of my size, I think I've had to work a little bit harder to prove I'm capable. So I always go above and beyond. For a while I looked quite young so some people didn't trust that I was old enough to do my job.

Now I am grateful. People always think I'm younger than I actually am!

Romeo Mateo, 28, landscaper

  • Height: 5ft 2in (157cm)
  • From Guatemala
  • Lives in Florida, USA

Guatemala is much different than the United States. In my country my height is normal so I didn't face any obstacles in my childhood.

Since I moved here, I usually don't have problems. Sometimes people say things around me, and not to my face, like how I am short or a different colour than they are.

It's always difficult for me to buy shoes in America because I am a size 39 (European). Stores never have my size. I always have to shop in the boys' section.

Generally people aren't rude to me because I am short. Actually, as a short person I have an advantage over tall people because I can handle extreme climates much easier!

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