The Indian economy may have scaled unprecedented heights since 1991 but the country's women remain much shorter ‘literally’ than counterparts in most of the developing world. Worse still "the increase in their height is a crawl" compared to women in many countries that are economically weaker.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found Indian women 5.5 cm shorter than the average female height across 54 developing countries studied in what population economists are dubbing the most comprehensive analysis of its kind.Their findings, published in the journal Public Library of Sciences (PLOS) show that the gap in height between women in India and many developing countries, and the gap between rich and poor women across developing countries, are both widening.
"India is among the bottom of countries showing any female height increase and has the sixth highest gap between height growth in rich and poor women, Harvard professor and lead author for the new PLOS study", SV Subramanian told HT. Only Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Peru and the Honduras have a worse gap between rich and poor women.
The conclusions suggest that Indian women are yet to benefit from the economic reforms like Europeans did from the Industrial Revolution three centuries ago "when their height and weight improved significantly", according to population economists like Novel Laureate Robert Fogel.
Globally, the most significant overall finding of the research is the revelation that 31 out of 54 countries studied showed a decline in female height "suggesting overall" worsening nutritional and environmental circumstances during childhood in developing countries. These countries are mostly in Africa.
The Harvard findings come close on the heels of research published in the journal Economics and Human Biology suggesting that Indian men are growing taller at moderate rates. That study did not compare inter-country heights.
“The story in India is that for men there appears to be modest increase (in height) but not for women,” Subramanian said. An Indian woman is on average 0.3 mm taller than a woman born a year earlier, the researchers found. Women in Nepal, Gabon, Senegal and several other African, Asian and Latin American countries are ahead of India.