Author`s name Alex Naumov

Fast food makes Americans shorter

Americans are no longer the tallest nation in the world. The new anthropometric research shows that American people are becoming fatter and shorter than Europeans. Too much fast food in the American diet may be one of the reasons behind the trend, the study says. However, the height problem is even worse in Russia.

America’s population ceased to be the tallest in the world. The study, conducted by Professor John Komlos of the University of Munich, found that a white American male averaged 173.69 cm in height in 1850. The American white male average was 178.7 cm in 2000. The African-American male average was slighter shorter.

Europeans have grown much taller in 150 years, with the Netherlands towering above the rest of the world as the tallest country. In 1850, the Dutch averaged 164.5 cm in height, whereas the population’s average height measured 184.12 cm at the turn of the 21st century.

Prof. Komlos published a number of articles to explain why Americans have started to grow considerably shorter since the 1950s. At the beginning, Prof. Komlos suggested that an influx of shorter immigrants might have resulted in the overall height decrease. In his further studies he did not focus on the effect of the immigrants. Still, Prof. Komlos arrived at the same results: Americans have been lagging behind Europeans in terms of height.

The height of an average American child has stopped increasing since the 1950s, says one of the articles by Prof. Komlos. On the face of it, the trend seems strange for the country’s well-being has improved over the last fifty years. In addition, America’s health-care system improved too. On the whole, the reason has to do with the way people eat and live, says the article.

The American diet is plentiful yet unbalanced. Prof. Komlos draws a parallel between the shrinking stature of the nation and the obesity epidemic that is becoming a serious problem in the United States, especially among children. Overeating can halt growth at a time of life when most growing takes place. Though a human being grows until he turns 20-25, the 1st year, a period from the 6th to the 8th year, and period from the 13th to the 15th year of life are considered the most crucial time in terms of anthropometry.

Another reason for the lag is that Americans have started to pay less attention to their kids, according to Prof. Komlos. Many indicators relating to the well-being of American children are lower than those in European countries. Strange as it may seem, such indicators as the stillbirth rate, the low-birth weight rate, the infant mortality rate, and the poverty rate among children are still lower in the United States than in Europe.

However, other researchers are quite skeptical about the conclusions Prof. Komlos arrived at. The skeptics believe it is rather difficult to compare the United States, a large and heterogeneous country, with relatively small countries whose populations have a low percentage of immigrants.

“We would definitely oversimplify the problem by calling for more funds to be allocated for the health-care system,” said Tom Miller of American Enterprise Institute.

Those opposed to Prof. Komlos’ theory emphasize that an average height depends on a wide variety of factors, and therefore the issue is too complex for such a simplistic interpretation.

Still, there is a clear link between a country’s well-being and an average height of subject country’s population. Most growing takes place in childhood, and social disturbances have a delayed effect on individuals as they grow older.

In the meantime, Russia’s residents are getting shorter too.

Academician Alexander Baranov, director of the pediatrics research institute under the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, said in 2006 that “on an average, a Russian citizen has become shorter by 1.5 cm over the last fifteen years.”

A Russian averages 170 cm in height. The population’s decline in height is likely to continue. For instance, an average height of a newborn in the regions near the Urals measures 50 cm these days. Back in 1980, an average height of a newborn in the Soviet Union was 51 cm.

Other countries are concerned about the shrinking stature of their people too. A nationwide program adopted by the Vietnamese government several years ago aims to help the Vietnamese grow taller by an average of 6.7 cm in the next 25 years. The government believes that an increase in the population’s average height clearly indicates a higher standard of living.

The Vietnamese government is planning to carry out the program mostly by providing free milk to children. Free milk will be provided to each Vietnamese child from the first weeks of life. It is worthy of notice that the Vietnamese male average has changed from 157 cm to 163 cm since 1975, the year when the Vietnam War ended. Apparently, no milk contributed to the height increase. As for Russia, free milk has been provided to infants since the Soviet era yet it does not help kids grow taller, by and large. If Prof. Komlos’ theory holds water, kids will be getting even shorter as fast-food restaurants continue to mushroom far and wide.

Translated by Guerman Grachev