In a perfect world I’m about 6’4′ and I tower above everyone I come up against. I’m not sure why I have decided that 6’4” is the ideal height for me. It seems like most people I meet are taller than me — I’m only about 5’10 and I usually find myself staring at a person’s sternum.
Apparently I’m not the only one with this problem. A new study reports that Americans are not walking as tall as they once did. In fact they’re not sitting as tall as they once did either.
For the last 200 years or so, Americans had the distinction of being the tallest people on Earth, as befitted the richest nation. Height apparently came with the territory.
But according to the results of research concluded by John Komlos, Professor of Economic History at the University of Munich, and Benjamin Lauderdale, of the Department of Politics at Princeton – and just published in the scientific journal Annals of Human Biology (www.tandf.co.uk) — European nations have overtaken us Yanks. The Dutchare now the tallest.And not only that,the Norwegians, Danish and Germans have overtaken the Americans in the ‘ol height department as well.
According to the Annals report, Professor Komlos suspects that it may have something to do with the junk food trend that hit the US before Europe. Alternatively, the more equitable healthcare systems of Western Europe may enable more people to reach their optimum height, while many poorer children in the United States remain deprived.
But Kolmos admits these explanations are conjecture. What is beyond argument is that average heights in several European countries now exceed those in the United States. The data come from a variety of sources. Regular health and nutrition surveys in the US provide data on adult heights. Data gathered on US military personnel provide another source.
European countries have also gathered reliable data as a basis for comparison.
According to a follow-up article in www.timesonline.co.uk, the figures show that the average height of an adult white male in the United States rose steadily until the generation born in the early 1950s. Average height then remained constant for a decade, increasing slightly among those born around 1980. The same trend was seen among white women.
While American growth rates were stagnating, those of Europe were surging ahead. The paper does not include British data, but shows that by the generation born around 1960, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish and German men were taller than Americans.
Today, the two authors say, young white American men are about 1¾ inches shorter than Dutch men, and white American women are about 2¼ inches shorter than their Dutch counterparts.
Well I don’t know about you — but I’m about ready to stick some lifts in my shoes.
Sociologists say this is a stark reversal of the pattern in the mid-19th century when American towered over Europeans by similar or even larger margins.
An article in the Italian Newspaper La Repubblica (www.larepubblica.it, 2 Feb 2007) points out that several obvious explanations can be dismissed: immigration into the US is not a factor because the comparison is made between Americans of European descent and their opposite numbers who remained in Europe. The US Army data also make it possible to exclude first-generation Americans without affecting the results.
Genetics are ruled out as genes do not change that fast, and 50 years ago Americans, with the same genes, were taller than Europeans. All that is left is environment. The biggest possibility may be diet. Both Komlos and Lauderdale say there are reasons to believe that US diets are deficient to some extent as nearly a half of household food expenditure is spent on food outside of the home.
In other words, meals consumed out of the home are less balanced than those consumed at family dinners. That’s a nice way of saying that all the junk food we Americans consume is kicking us in the pants.
Which means that all those hamburgers and fries we wolf down really do mess us up. And those Gummy bears your kids sneak into school? You might as well get your kids a pair of stilts.
So now comes the news that my European neighbors are all taller than me. Well….at least I’ll always be taller than Tom Cruise…that’s gotta count for something.