Americans are Getting Shorter

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After being the tallest in the world for 200 years the average American has become shorter than Western Europeans. American height stagnates as obesity swells.

Why are Americans growing wider but not taller? This is the question presented in a biological/economic study at the University of Munich. With obesity plaguing Americans’ health, the study looks at the historical changes in height, weight and life expectancy coupled with socio-economic factors. Comparing the data with European equivalents, the authors show that U.S. economic prosperity has not translated into biological well-being.

Using data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and European statistics, the report illustrates that throughout the 20th century, Americans went from being the tallest to the fattest. Since World War II, Americans have grown on average only a few centimeters while Western and Northern Europeans have grown about 15 centimeters. Physical stature is a useful measure of biological well-being, and is a testament to how well the human organism thrives in its socio-economic environment.

At the same time, Americans have become obese (20% of the population) and life expectancy has fallen to 28th in the world, despite Americans’ spending more on health-related services than anywhere else. The U.S. health care system being less comprehensive than in Europe, plus the country’s social and spatial inequality, are the most likely causes of this phenomenon.

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The New Yorker, April 5, 2004

Burkhard Bilger    The Height Gap. Europeans are getting taller; why aren’t we?

The Height Gap

The science and history of sizing up a nation, inch by inch. Why people in certain countries stand taller now than ever, and why the average American suddenly doesn't measure up.

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Dr. Komlos (Ph.D, University of Chicago) is a professor of Economics at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, and has specialized in the effects of economics on human biology for 20 years. Last year he founded the journal “Economics and Human Biology.”

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John Komlos
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