Changes to Koreans' proportions over time, as shown for men and women in their 20s and 60s. (courtesy of the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards)
The number of taller Koreans has grown steadily over the past 42 years, government statistics show, with average height increasing by 6.4 cm for men and 5.3 cm for women during that period. While the average obesity of men has increased, the obesity level among women aged 35 and above has decreased.
According to the results of the eighth Size Korea body index survey, adult Korean men had an average height of 172.5 cm, and adult Korean women had an average height of 159.6 cm — around 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 3 inches, respectively. The survey results were disclosed by the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, which reports to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, in a briefing Wednesday.
This survey was carried out from May 2020 to December 2021 on 6,839 Koreans aged 20 to 69. When the first bodily measurement survey was carried out in 1979, it recorded an average height of 166.1 cm for men and 154.3 cm for women. During the intervening 40-plus years, men have grown 6.4 cm taller on average, and women 5.3 cm taller — around 2.5 inches and 2 inches, respectively.
The leg-to-body ratio (calculated by dividing leg length by total height) increased in all age groups. That ratio rose from 43.7% for men and 44.4% for women during the fifth survey in 2003 to 45.3% for men and 45.8% for women this time around.
Koreans have also maintained a head-body ratio (calculated by dividing total height by head height) of 7.2-7.3 since the 1990s, while their cephalic index (calculated by dividing head width by head length) ranged from 0.84-0.89 (the brachycephalic type observed in East Asians) regardless of age and gender.
“These results show that Koreans are maintaining their distinctive features in some bodily ratios despite their growing height and weight and the Westernization of their body type,” the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards said.
The survey found that Korean men had an average body mass index (BMI) of 24.9, which has steadily risen from 22.1 in 1979. Around half of the men (47.0%) were obese, defined as a BMI of at least 25.
Women’s BMI has fluctuated between 22.0 and 23.1 over the past four decades. It was measured at 22.0 in 1979 and 22.6 in 2021.
Obesity has declined in all age groups upwards of 35 years old compared to the seventh wave of the survey, five years ago, and that decline was particularly noticeable among women in their 50s and 60s.
Waist circumference, which is an indicator of abdominal obesity, increased in all age groups of men compared to the previous survey but decreased in all age groups of women except for those in their 20s.
By Kim Young-bae, senior staff writer
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