Saturday, September 8, 2007

Americans are Getting Shorter

Average height of a population is related to health and quality of diet. This has been known for a long time. In colonial times, Americans were the tallest people in the world. When traveling in Europe, Americans were accustomed to towering over the rest of the crowd. This makes sense because the average American had a healthier lifestyle, healthier environment, and better diet than his European counterpart. But that's all changed over the last 50 years. Americans are becoming shorter (and fatter) and Europeans are becoming taller. The average Dutch male is now 5 cm taller than the average American male and the difference is growing. The difference in women is even greater. The average Dutch woman is 5.9 cm taller than her American counterpart. Despite the fundamental importance of this trend, this gets little or no press coverage in the United States for some reason.

Why is this happening? An article in Social Science Quarterly says "... we can conjecture that there are differences in the diet of U.S. and European children that could affect human growth. For example, U.S. children consume more meals prepared outside the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density, and low in essential micronutrients, than do European children."

For the moment, Americans are still doing well on average in terms of lifespan but this may be due to the oceans of drugs we consume to treat illness. It's better not to get sick in the first place so this lead will probably disappear as the current "short and fat generation" ages.

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