May 22, 2007
EUROPEANS TALLER ON AVERAGE
Bad Health Care, Deficient Welfare Keep Americans Short
For decades, it has been clear that average European heights have been
increasing while those on the other side of the Atlantic have not. But
why? A new study says it might have to do with health care and the
For years, researchers have been wondering why Americans stopped
growing. US citizens were among the tallest in the world up until World
War II. But since then, heights have stagnated while Europeans have been
getting taller and taller, with the average American now between two and
six centimeters shorter.
The correlation between wealth and height has long been understood, the
most recent example coming as Eastern Europeans shot up following the
collapse of communism. But why, in the richest country in the world,
should growth rates be stagnating?
A new study published in the current issue of the Social Science
Quarterly by researchers from Princeton University in the US and the
University of Munich in Germany indicates that the difference may have
to do more with politics than biology. Specifically, the study, which
involved the statistical analysis of demographic and health data
collected between 1959 and 2002, concludes that the spotty US
health-care system and weak welfare net could explain why Americans have
"We surmise that the health systems and high degree of social security
in Europe provide better conditions for growth than the American health
system, despite the fact that the system costs twice as much," said
study co-author John Komlos from the University of Munich in a
statement. "There are also indications that American diets are deficient
in several areas."
>From the Colonial times until roughly the 1970s, Americans were the
tallest people in the world. But then, growth stagnated while Europeans
spent the second half of the 20th century growing like weeds. Now, the
average Dutchman is six centimeters taller than the average American --
"almost an exact reversal of the relationship in the middle of the 19th
century," Komlos says.
Researchers have established in recent years that wealthier families
tend to provide better nutrition for their children and, as a result,
they tend to grow taller. The drastic differences in the United States
between rich and poor, the researchers pointed out, mean that the US
average is pulled down by those who struggle to get by. Whereas in the
US, some 15 percent of the population has no health insurance and those
on welfare can barely get by, almost all citizens of northern and
western European countries enjoy universal health care and a generous
social net. The result is that even those children dependent on welfare
in Europe have a sufficient living standard, the researchers concluded.
The study was based on data gathered by the National Health Examination
Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
Still, quite a bit more needs to be done to determine the relationship
between social standards and height, says Komlos. "In short," he said,
"the richest are neither the tallest nor the healthiest. Why that is so
must be explained."