April 13, 2004


Seems every 10th headline in my RSS aggregator about health has to do with some state and/or city and obesity battles. Here's the rundown.

Little Rock, Arkansas - running BMI tests on its students.

Douglas County, Nebraska - people are fat/or depressed, and they're sexually unhealthy. What a trifecta.

West Virginia - fatter than average. This article's "largely" quotes from women trying to doff poundage.

But it was here's the most interesting thing; we're not getting taller as we get wider. How interesting.
Around the time of the Civil War, Americans’ heights predictably decreased: Union soldiers dropped from sixty-eight to sixty-seven inches in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, and similar patterns held for West Point cadets, Amherst students, and free blacks in Maryland and Virginia. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the country seemed set to regain its eminence. The economy was expanding at a dramatic rate, and public-hygiene campaigns were sweeping the cities clean at last: for the first time in American history, urbanites began to outgrow farmers.

Then something strange happened. While heights in Europe continued to climb, Komlos said, “the U.S. just went flat.” In the First World War, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimetres a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven’t grown taller in fifty years. By now, even the Japanese—once the shortest industrialized people on earth—have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising.

The average American man is only five feet nine and a half—less than an inch taller than the average soldier during the Revolutionary War. Women, meanwhile, seem to be getting smaller. According to the National Center for Health Statistics—which conducts periodic surveys of as many as thirty-five thousand Americans—women born in the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties average just under five feet five. Those born a decade later are a third of an inch shorter.

Just in case I still thought this a trivial trend, Komlos put a final bar graph in front of me. It was entitled “Life Expectancy 2000.” Compared with people in thirty-six other industrialized countries, it showed, Americans rank twenty-eighth in average longevity—just above the Irish and the Cypriots (the Japanese top the rankings). “Ask yourself this,” Komlos said, peering at me above his reading glasses. “What is the difference between Western Europe and the U.S. that would work in this direction? It’s not income, since Americans, at least on paper, have been wealthier for more than a century. So what is it?”
Read the whole thing.


Posted by hln at April 13, 2004 12:13 PM | Nutrition | TrackBack

I think I will.

Posted by: notGeorge at April 14, 2004 11:01 PM

That article was fascinating! Thanks for pointing it out.

Posted by: Mollbot at April 15, 2004 02:00 AM

Here's one American who'd happily have stopped getting taller about three inches ago.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood at April 26, 2004 05:43 PM