Recently, Social Science Quarterly featured an article that revealed that Americans are getting shorter when compared to the rest of the world. The importance of this finding was spelled out by "anthropometric historians" in the article. They have concluded that height is a biological shorthand of sorts that provides a powerful indicator of a society's wellbeing.
Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations or countries are mostly environmental. If Dan is taller than Mike it is attributable to taller parents. However, if Norwegians are taller than Americans it is because they are living in healthier conditions.
In a country's height lies the proof of its health care, daily diet and social class arrangement. As the economic standing in North Korea has declined so has the height of its citizens. Though North and South Korea are separated only by a narrow demilitarized zone, the living conditions are markedly different. North Korea is plagued by food shortages, poor health care and a failing economy while South Korea enjoys more plentiful food, better health care and a growing economy. An Economics and Biology report revealed that the average South Korean was a full three inches taller than the average North Korean. These height differences have occurred in a relatively short period of time punctuating the impact of environmental conditions within a country.
In the 1800's, Americans were the tallest people on the planet. By 2000, the average American man was 5 feet 10.5 inches tall and ranked 9th in the world while the average American woman was 5 feet 5 inches tall and ranked 15th in the world. Dutch men are ranked first at 6 feet 1 inch on average and Dutch women are ranked number one at an average height of 5 feet 7 inches. During World War One, the average American soldier was two inches taller than the average German soldier.
Then somewhere in the mid 1950's, Germans and other Europeans started to grow, many Asians grew even more, while the average American did not. In fact, the height of an average American has not increased in over 50 years. If the fact that Americans are not getting any taller doesn't concern you, factor into your considerations that there is a growing gap in life expectancy between Americans and their European and Asian counterparts. Forty one nations now outlive Americans. In just 20 years Americans life expectancy has fallen from 11th to 41st. Japan now has the longest average life expectancy. Forty countries have a lower infant mortality rate than the United States including, Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe.
I believe that the United States is still one of the greatest countries in the world. I am confident that our larger culture will take a long hard look at the many indicators that suggest that we need to adopt national health standards and practices that return us to the top of the height and health standings. Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org