Monday, July 16, 2007

Tall In The Saddle No More

Well, here's another chart we've fallen off the top from:
America used to be the tallest country in the world.

From the Founding Fathers through the industrial revolution and two world wars, Americans literally towered over other nations. In a land of boundless open spaces and limitless natural abundance, the nation turned increasing wealth into human growth.

But, as it has in other arenas, America's predominance in height has faded. Americans reached a height plateau after World War II and gradually fell behind the rest of the world.
Wait till you read who we've fallen behind...
Young adults in Japan and other prosperous Asian countries now are almost as tall as Americans.
You may recall that the stereotype Japanese during World War II was a short stocky fellow with buck teeth and slanty eyes. Aside from the short, not a whole lot of truth to that image, however, the short part was true.

So how come Americans have fallen so far down the list, heightwise?
Like many human traits, height is determined by a mix of genes and environment. Experts agree that, aside from African pygmies and a few similar exceptions, most populations have about the same genetic potential for height.
That leaves environment, specifically the environment children experience from conception through adolescence. Any deficiency, from poor prenatal care to early childhood disease or malnutrition, can prevent one from reaching his or her full height potential.
OK, so here goes: The United States has an infant mortality rate of 4.6 deaths per 100,000. That sounds pretty good, and in fact, is the best of any country that doesn't have nationalized health care.

But is just behind Cuba in terms of worldwide infant mortality rates (which average somewhere around 36 deaths per 100,000), and factoring out stillbirths doesn't do much to improve our standing (meaning that most developed nations have better post-natal care than we do, something to think about the next time a "pro-life" person wails to you about dying babies). Further, if you look at the odds of a kid under five dying in the United States, we're much worse than Cuba.

Michael Moore seems to have a point, you begin to think.

But back to this article. What does this all mean? Well, the richer a country is, the taller its population tends to be, what with improved health care and nutrition available to them. And the taller your population is, the longer it tends to live.

Note a particular word in that paragraph, though: "nutrition." That doesn't mean more food, it means better food, and clearly the American fast food diet is contributing more than its share of this trend. Fast, fatty foods contribute a lot of calories, but not much in the way of nutrition.

Finally, there's a factor at play here that gets talked about a lot in the media but never really gets looked at: income inequality. Richer countries where all people are benefitting economically tend to be taller than countries that have increasing poverty levels and increasing economic inequality.

So that's one more feather in George Bush's cap: he's made us a shorter nation, figuratively AND literally!