Standing Short

It’s no secret that we’re fatter than Europeans and, thanks to the weak dollar, poorer than Europeans. Now, in the latest blow to American pride, it comes to our attention that we are also shorter than Europeans.

OK, not all Europeans. But we’re now toward the bottom in the height charts among industrialized nations.

The economist Paul Krugman wrote about this in his June 15 column for the New York Times. (I would link to it, but it’s available only to subscribers.) Krugman based his column in part on an article published in Social Science Quarterly entitled Underperformance in Affluence: The Remarkable Relative Decline in U.S. Heights in the Second Half of the 20th Century¬† by John Komlos and Benjamin E. Lauderdale.

It’s an interesting read. In 1930, Americans were taller, on average, than people in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Germany. Now they are all taller than we are. And it’s not about demographic changes in the United States; the results hold true when narrowed to only white Americans.

The article posits that the reason for this is mainly nutritional. It’s not, as our corpulence attests, that Americans don’t get enough to eat. It’s that¬† Americans don’t eat the right things as growing children. We eat junk.

I know that I feel shorter in Europe because, relatively speaking, I am. At 5 foot 9, I’m fairly tall for a female American and still taller than most European women. But in Scandinavia and the Netherlands I saw lots of taller (and thinner) women everywhere.

It’s just something to get used to, at least until we start improving our diets. When I visited my parents in the Costa Rican village where they served in the Peace Corps, the neighbors called me “La Alta,” the tall one.

Now I guess I’ll learn the Dutch word for “Shortie.”


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