Development of human average height

Human average height has fluctuated significantly throughout history. For instance, in the last 100 years or so, it has increased sharply by about 10cm. OWID (Our World in Data) has data and figures on, among other measures, the average height over the last 18K years, average male height by country over the last 200 years, annual change in average male height, and annual change in average female height.

Regulation of human height

Already the genetics of human height seem to be complicated and to involve a large number of different genes (and hundreds of loci) according to, e.g., this article by Lettre (2011). However, since the time spans are too short for significant purely genetic effects, there must be either developmental or epigenetic effects at play or both. Developmental effects have been linked to socio-economic status, perhaps via steady and good nutrition before birth and during childhood. This paper by Komlos (2007) (without paywall here) shows data for English youths in the 1700s and 1800s by socio-economic status and finds a height gap of up to 22.6cm, his sample sizes are a couple of thousands for the lower-class group and less than that for the upper-class group.

Epigenetics human height

Carey reports in her book "The Epigenetics Revolution" (2012) that people born after the Dutch Hunger Winter would not only remain small for their entire lives but that there was still a significant difference in their children, born decades later. She does not seem to refer to height differences though (I guess?), but to differences in the risk to develop certain diseases as reported in this paper by Heijmans et al. (2008) (not sure if there's a paywall; same paper is also here). They trace this to differences in the expression of a certain gene (IGF2) because of hypomethylation of that region.

Since other phenomena are thus shown to be subject to epigenetic effects, it is possible that the regulation of human height is too. To be clear, I am not aware of any study that suggests this (or investigates this). It would certainly be very difficult to identify, so I suspect this has not been thoroughly investigated. Note that the epigenetic effects shown in Heijmans et al. (2008) could only be shown because of the very specific conditions of the Dutch Hunger Winter, a short but horribly severe famine with intact medical records. But I am hoping there is some information out there.

So my question is

Are there indications that epigenetic effects may be present in the regulation of human height and its rather interesting development in recorded history? (Or is this unlikely, e.g. because the variation is sufficiently explained by other factors or because studies have tried and failed to find epigenetic effects? Or has this not been investigated so far?)

  • $\begingroup$ Would you care to explain your downvote? Evidently you think that whatever is wrong with my question is so blatantly obvious that I should not have dared asking this in the first place. Is it off-topic (not biology?)? Is it trivial? Is it more than one question? Is it a duplicate? Is the question unclear? Does it not show any evidence of research? Is it that you feel I'm promoting some commercial interest/ideology/conspiracy theory/bad paper? It is more likely that I can fix it if you tell me what's wrong. $\endgroup$
    – 0range
    Feb 27 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ nature.com/articles/ncomms13490 $\endgroup$
    – user438383
    Feb 27 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @user438383 Thanks, this is very helpful. I was not aware of that paper. I should probably have searched more thoroughly. I guess, this also means that the question is indeed trivial and should be deleted. I will do that shortly. $\endgroup$
    – 0range
    Feb 27 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @0range no problem. I dont think it renders the original question trivial and in need of deleting. Hopefully someone with knowledge of epigenetics can give a comprehensive answer. $\endgroup$
    – user438383
    Feb 27 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ My point about statistics is that it says whether an correlation is likely to be true, but nothing about its basis — i.e. whether its basis is epigenetic. And as for blood sampling — not much DNA there — what does that actually mean? Such a lynchpin of human epigenetics needs more than plausibility. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Feb 27 at 21:17

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