Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 May

The Connection Between Height and Health

growingboyHeight has historically been regarded as a marker of health and robustness. We seem to implicitly accept that bigger is indeed better, even if we don’t want to admit it. On average, tall people attain more professional success and make more money, the taller presidential candidate almost always wins, and women are more attracted to tall men. On a very visceral level, the taller person is more physically imposing. After all, who would you rather fight – the dude with a long reach raining punches from up high or the shorter guy with stubby arms who has to work his way inside your guard (although Mike Tyson did pretty well for himself with such “limitations”)? And on that note, who would you prefer as a mate – the physically imposing specimen or the shorter, presumably weaker male?

We in the Primal health community are quick to point out that agriculture reduced physical stature. Generally speaking, bone records indicate that Paleolithic (and, to a lesser extent, Mesolithic) humans were taller than humans living immediately after the advent of agriculture. Multiple sources exist, so let’s take a look at a couple of them before moving on:

According to one study on remains of early Europeans, prior to 16,000 BC, European males stood 179 cm tall, or 5’10.5″, and females stood 158 cm, or 5’2″. Between 8,000 to 6,600 BC, average heights had dropped to 166 cm for males. Heights fell even further in Neolithic populations, dropping down to 164 cm for males and 150 cm for females, only reaching and surpassing 170 cm at the end of the 19th century.

Another source found that Paleolithic humans living between 30,000 and 9,000 BC ran almost 5’10”, which is close to the average modern American male’s height. After agriculture was fully adopted, male height dropped to 161 cm, or 5’5.4″. Females went from 166.5 cm to 154.3 cm under the same parameters.

We know these changes to height also reflected worsened health, because with shortness came dental pathologies like caries, plaque, and decay, signs of arrested growth indicating instances of severe malnutrition, and skull abnormalities that stem from iron deficiency. People got shorter, sicker, and less healthy. Height wasn’t a cause of poor health, of course, but it was an indicator.

And that’s where the statistic of height shines – as an indicator. On a large scale, height increases indicate improved nutritional or socioeconomic status, while decreases indicate poor nutrition, famine, war, or economic hardship. Thus, as a population increases in height, it’s safe to assume that its people are either eating better, making more money, or both. If a population shows decreasing height (or stagnation, which the US is showing), we surmise that something is amiss. There exists no better modern day example of height following health than with North and South Korea. Several studies show that South Koreans are taller than their counterparts to the north. Since the two populations are so closely related, genetic differences can’t explain the discrepancy; it’s got to be environment, especially childhood nutrition. North Koreans are famously malnourished, and the height discrepancy between North and South – about three or four inches on average – is similar to the height discrepancy observed between Paleolithic and Neolithic populations.

There are numerous other examples. Up until the late 1800s, Northern Plains Indian tribes were the tallest people in the world, standing over 172 cm (or about 5’8″) and subsisting on a nourishing diet of wild game, fish, berries, and native plants. That height advantage disappeared with reservation life, of course. Fry bread, vegetable oil, sugar, and white flour mixed with extreme stress and economic hardship are poor substitutes for fresh buffalo and open plains. What about Americans, the ones who supplanted the Plains tribes? For most of the past two hundred years, Americans have been the tallest people in the world, until about fifty years ago when height began to stagnate. Today, American males stand around 5’10.5″, but we haven’t grown in decades and other countries have long since passed us. Meanwhile, European and Asian countries have steadily gained on us. The Dutch, whose men stand over 6′ and whose women stand over 5’7″, are now the tallest in the world. American males are ninth tallest and American females are fifteenth, and any regular reader of mine knows that the nutritional situation in America needs a lot of work. It’s no surprise that we’re stagnating while other countries with better nutrition are growing.

And yet for all the concrete links between a population’s height, health, and nutrition (especially childhood nutrition), some researchers have linked “excessive” height to poor health and longevity. Barring the obvious examples of short-lived people with gigantism and other endocrine disorders, there is some evidence that the shorter among us live the longest. Thomas Samaras, a height/health researcher, has authored several papers arguing that bigger is not necessarily better. In one, he reviews human and animal evidence and seems to present a strong argument, but others have argued that Samaras overlooks evidence to the contrary. While Samaras chooses to focus on increased mortality from non smoking-related cancers in the tall, he ignores the bevy of evidence showing that in industrialized nations, taller people enjoy more protection from all-cause mortality, including heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease.

But what about those centenarians? As Samaras notes, they, along with nonagenarians (between 90 and 99 years old), are on average shorter than the rest of the population. The long-lived Okinawans are famously dimunitive, and it seems like every other Mediterranean centenarian in the news is a spry old lady.

I like one possible explanation for centenarians being shorter and slighter while enjoying better health and longevity: insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1, a protein produced in the liver and stimulated by growth hormone that induces systemic growth in almost every cell of the body, including muscle, bone, various organs, cartilage, skin, nerves, and lungs. It even affects DNA synthesis and individual cell growth. IGF-1 is perhaps the biggest determinant of height in humans: in infants, IGF-1 correlates strongly with growth, IGF-1 is highest during growth spurts in pre-teens and teens, and higher levels of IGF-1 usually correlate with adult height. Clearly, enough IGF-1 is required for proper musculoskeletal development, but what about too much? Can you have too much IGF-1?

Staffan Lindeberg thinks that excessive serum levels of IGF-1 from diet-induced hyperinsulinemia are causing unhealthy amounts of growth, which manifest as higher rates of cancer and, yes, height, in Western populations. Simply put, Lindeberg agrees that a population’s height is an indicator of health, but only to a point, after which it indicates excessive and potentially problematic levels of IGF-1. There’s probably something to this; female centenarians are more likely to have an IGF-1 receptor mutation that results in elevated serum levels of IGF-1 while reducing IGF-1 receptor activity. In other words, the body was producing more IGF-1 to make up for the lack of receptor activity. This same receptor mutation has been linked to longevity in multiple animal models resulting in higher serum IGF-1 and lower IGF-1 receptor activity – just like in the human centenarians. In male and female offspring of the centenarians, however, only females showed elevated serum levels. Male offspring had similar IGF-1 levels to control males (those with no familial history of longevity). Female offspring were also 2.5 cm shorter than control females; male offspring were of similar height to control males. Perhaps short stature is more beneficial to women?

Maybe so. Gavrilova looked at draft cards filled out by 30 year-old Americans who would eventually grow up to become centenarians and analyzed the differences between the physical stats of those who would eventually grow up to become centenarians and those who didn’t. While obesity (or “stoutness,” as it was called back then) had strong negative links to longevity, height did not. The group of future centenarians was mostly people of medium height. Being soldiers, however, these were exclusively males. According to the IGF-1 receptor mutation study, only in females is the mutation linked to lower heights and greater longevity.

Overall, though? Height is linked to a population’s health and good childhood nutrition. In certain individuals, given certain genetic differences, short stature may indicate the potential for greater longevity, but not on a population-wide scale. Besides – barring pharmaceutical (or cybernetic) interventions, there’s not a whole lot we full-grown adults can do to alter our heights.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Share your thoughts in the comment board.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark, I’m a believer!

    I tried to stay gluten free during my pregnancy (but hadn’t quite made the full transition until after pregnancy). My husband and I are paleo. My son does partake in gluten, but only for treats (at birthday parties, etc.) He prefers to eat a lot meat and fruit. At 36 months (3 years exactly), he is almost 41″ tall (above 95th percentile) and 33lbs (he is lean b/c he is active- 1/2 mile run with us daily, does burpees and rides his bike daily.)

    jamie wrote on May 31st, 2011
  2. Hilariously enough, up until recently (so for about 18 years) I was eating absolute garbage.

    Fast food, one or two cans of coca-cola a day, not sleeping enough.

    Yet I’m a male at 6’1”

    Laws of the Cave wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Did you eat garbage before the age of 12?
      Were you breastfed?

      This is interesting :-)

      Resi wrote on May 31st, 2011
      • Was not breastfed. Something that my mom is not proud of (but I forgave her haha).

        I lived on fast food and coke. Not the powedered junk, the soda :P.

        I get the feeling I’m just an outlier.

        Or I had an UNHEALTHY amount of growth hormone in relation to my health.

        I actually am the tallest in my family too.

        Laws of the Cave wrote on June 2nd, 2011
  3. 6 foot and 1 inch at 17 years old and 200 lbs…And thanks to a Paleo/Primal diet..
    The same at 54 years old…..the skeleton is broken up a bit…but the muscles still ripple
    LOVE TO ALL MARK!!
    GROK ON>>>

    Daveman wrote on May 31st, 2011
  4. Estrogen is also supposed to halt growth in height.
    That’s why females tend to slow down way more than males when puperty hits.

    I wonder if guys that run higher than normal on estrogen during puperty end up short because of it.

    Resi wrote on May 31st, 2011
  5. Diet and Nutrition definitely have an effect on child’s future height. Both of my grand parents are super short, my mom is much taller then them, and my uncle is even taller then my mom.
    I am not sure if shorter means longevity, but good nutrition equals health and health equals longevity.
    BTW I know you said at the beginning of the article that women prefer taller guys, I have to disagree because I am a woman and I love short guys, tall guys kind of scare me.

    Tatianna wrote on May 31st, 2011
  6. My husband is Dutch and he is 6’4″ and was raised on a diet rich is dairy produce. His staples as a child were cheese, milk, eggs and butter. Grains also featured heavily on the menu with bread, cereals and legumes being top of the pile. I lived in Amsterdam for 4 years and was tired of sandwiches for lunch every day after a few weeks. I packed frittata and salad for lunch which was viewed as odd. Why didn’t I want to eat bread like everyone else?

    I am only 5’6″ but was raised in Australia on a diet consisting of meat, poultry, vegetables and fruit with some grains thrown in for good measure. I ate cheese and drank milk but neither were consumed in vast quantities.

    Carol wrote on May 31st, 2011
  7. You are mixing up nutrition and genetics in a very confusing and incorrect way. People who receive adequate nutrition will reach their optimal genetically determined height. People with poor nutrition or hormonal imbalances can end up shorter (or sometimes taller) and generally have health problems to go with it. It is ridiculous to complain of “height stagnation” in the U.S. population which is extremely genetically diverse, and compare it to a small population like Holland which is less diverse. Obviously the difference is genetic. You can not make your child grow taller than his/her genetic potential by feeding the child what you believe is a superior diet. You can only prevent poor growth that would result from an inadequate diet.

    Catherine wrote on May 31st, 2011
  8. Interesting article. My two aunt’s lived in China (100% Russian descent) until they were 8 and 10 and suffered malnutrition. They are both short – about 5″1 and are kind of weak both psychologically and physiologically. My mother on the other hand was born when they got to Australia in 1952, is about 5″6 or 5″7 and is far more robust in all ways. Pretty big difference, huh?

    Natski wrote on May 31st, 2011
  9. The reason Americans are shorter on average, is the large immigrant population skews the numbers. These folks eat “third world protein” sources, and in general eat poorly. No matter how good we eat, we can’t escape that fact.

    Brian wrote on May 31st, 2011
  10. Hey has everyone heard Mark Zuckerberg has gone primal by killing everything he eats?
    Check it out at http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/opinion-zone/2011/05/mark-zuckerberg-kills-goat-pig-and-chicken-food
    Should be interesting and debate stirring!

    Peter Pain wrote on May 31st, 2011
  11. 34″, but then again…diameter isn’t everything.

    Dasbutch wrote on May 31st, 2011
  12. Does the decrease in height for the American population considers the waves of imigrants from ethnic groups that are naturally smaller? Maybe it hasn’t changed as much if we consider separate groups.

    Bernardo wrote on May 31st, 2011
  13. All me and my (female) siblings are 5’8 – 5’10. Of course, there must totally be a genetic component. But, we also ate “healthy” growing up: so, while there were grains, for sure, they were never refined and always whole, and we didn’t get the yummy cereal (just the branny stuff). When mom baked pies, the crust was made with whole wheat flour. Most importantly, probably, there was zero soda, chips, candy, fast food, or any of the packaged or processed food a lot of kids get. Our mom was totally opposed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were always home-made. To be honest, I realize we had limited fruit too. (We did drink juice though.) — Suffice it to say, we loved eating at friend’s houses: it felt like a junk food spree — Lucky for us, we also had real butter and always full fat cheeses. The milk was 1%, the prevailing wisdom at the time.

    Anyway, maybe the controlled wannabe-healthy carbs and lack of to many of them (maybe?) helped us attain our tallness.

    OOga wrote on May 31st, 2011
  14. Hmmm, I know that my sister (a type 1 diabetic) who has self induced hyperinsulinemia (eating too much crap and taking too much insulin to “cover” it) has grown as an adult, especially in her mid twenties. We used to be the same height, now she’s 2 inches taller and I have not shrunk! She also has bigger hands and facial features. I’m sure she has thrown her hormones out of whack and has somehow increased her IGF1. Just to agree, taller does not always mean healthier (not in this modern world anyway)

    Katie wrote on May 31st, 2011
  15. I grew up as a competitive gymnast and we are usually short from all of the pounding on our joints, so they say. I ended up just under 5’4″ and one of the taller woman in my family. My younger brother is over 6 foot, I believe. I wonder if my being a gymnast had much influence on me being so much shorter? Though I do know of former gymnasts who ended up being about 5’10”.
    According to the CW, I have always eaten really healthy, had to for the 5 to 6 hours of training I did daily. My younger bro did eat much worse than I did. It does makes me wonder how the insulin influences your hight?

    Jenn wrote on May 31st, 2011
  16. I’m 5’4″ and have a 7″ schlong. Do you think it may have something to do with my diet?

    Bub wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Why you ask? Which meassurement doesn’t satisfy you? :p

      Franco wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • Who cares! Go make money selling your schlong as a dildo model :-)

      Katzenberg wrote on June 1st, 2011
  17. I’m 6’4″, now 43yo and half sicilian!
    I think there’s a strong correlation (causation?) between dairy consumption during childhood and height. See the dutch! And what about the Massai? They’re freaking tall while on an overall low calorie diet.
    I always loved milk, cream, cheese, butter, yoghurt. Got into trouble often for eating the butter pure (or drinking the raw cream my mother bought for cooking), right from the fridge and eating the family stock of yoghurt al alone at once.
    My son (16yo) is “just” 6’0″ (btw, I was my height by 16) despite his mother comming from a tall family too.
    He doesn’t like milk and cheese as much as I do…
    About short vs. tall guys fighting my experience is that the short/stocky guys do start the fights to prove themselves. Beeing always the tallest but youngest in my class I had this happen all the time from primary school til my late teens. And I have still all my teeth… ;)

    Franco wrote on May 31st, 2011
  18. Everyone is so caught up comparing inches here that no one is noticing the obvious. There is ONLY data for how tall these various early populations were, in addition to the estimated point at which humans became agrarian. That is not enough information to get excited about.

    No data is presented that indicates why poor nutrition was achieved. I don’t think early farmers would have been particularly good at it. Do you? Some would have thrived, and others not. Possibly they HAD to farm but had several generations of poor harvest (while they learned how to do it) before they produced enough grain to once again provide enough nutrition to reach normal heights. The obvious nutritional deficiencies could have been caused by what, how much, and how good the food was.

    Too strict a delineation without data will only undermine your attempt to get more people eating better.

    Jennifer wrote on May 31st, 2011
  19. I doubt the link between health and height because Japanese and many other Asians are healthy but they are not tall.

    Vizeet wrote on May 31st, 2011
    • My chinese doctor in Germany was a freak at 6’1″ tall. He was from Hong Kong and immigrated to Germany ’cause he married a German.

      Katzenberg wrote on June 1st, 2011
  20. One question is what is the average human’s genetic height? I think it’s around 6 feet tall or so for men. In other words if a man grows up under 6 feet tall then it shows a childhood of poor nutrition and/or a number of illnesses. Hence traditional Westerners were short during most of the agricultural peroid – never enough food (esp. protein) while regularly getting ill. Conversely, hunter-gatherer people with plentiful balanced food and exercise (and general absence of disease as evidenced by the death toll when Westerners arrived with their diseases) have had a tendency towards being tall and muscular. Hence I would agree with the idea of the article that height is one good measure of peoples’ health.

    Gil wrote on May 31st, 2011
  21. Interesting article if indeed I ever (decide to) get offspring.

    I guess I would’ve been taller as well if not for eating a grain heavy diet during childhood. Now being at 170cm I don’t complain too much although almost everybody here in the Nordics is taller than me. I’m taller than my parents though… I wonder why that happens…

    Captain Obvious wrote on June 1st, 2011
  22. “After all, who would you rather fight …”. Think the dreaded Zdeno Chara, a defenceman of Boston Bruins, at 6 ft 9 :-)

    Jan Rendek wrote on June 1st, 2011
  23. I saw an exhibit at the Museum of London 15year ago where they displayed skeletons found in excavations in London dating back over well over 2000 years (London area has been settled for thousands of years) and the striking thing was how much taller the pre-17th Century people were; their teeth were better, teeth and bones showed far less evidence of modern disease. The skeletons from the late 17th Century into the 20th Century showed diseased bones, teeth, & much shorter. The signal change pointed to in the exhibit was the introduction of sugar into the British diet. As I came upon the paleo/primal hypothesis of diet, it took very little convincing after having seen the exhibit.

    digby wrote on June 1st, 2011
  24. Never seen so many people patting themselves on the back for something they had nothing to do with; being above average height. Odd.

    Shaun wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • Agree.

      fitmom wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • lol true…but entertaining!

      Katzenberg wrote on June 1st, 2011
  25. I’m 6′ even, which is quite tall for a woman! I come from a tall family on both sides…my dad is 6’3″ and my mom is around 5’7″. I’m the oldest, and my sister, the 2nd oldest–we are both about the same height. My little brother ended up the shortest, actually, at about 5’10.5″. Our family ancestry is mostly German and Irish (lots of Irish, actually, so we must have gotten our height from the German side). I ate an OK diet as a child (at least lots of home-cooked meals and veggies from our garden), but WAY to much sugar and grains and skim milk, so I’m pretty sure most of my height is gene-related. I used to hate being taller than all the guys I knew, but then I found my husband, who is just about 1/2″ taller than me (strangely, his heritage is Korean and Irish?! But I guess the Korean side of his family is quite tall.), so its all good. And now that I know how to sew, I actually have pants that are long enough, YAY! =D

    Ika wrote on June 1st, 2011
  26. I have a 92 year old grandmother who stands a full 4’10” (in atheletic shoes). The woman is a force of nature. Of the women in my family I am the tallest, standing 5’2″ barefoot. The men come in only two heights- 5’8″ and 6’2″. Studying only my family I have observed two things. 1- The women live much, much longer despite their bad habits. 2- The shorter you are the more fierce you are. Although the nicest woman in the world, you don’t cross my grandma. She can still throw a 6’+, muscular man to the ground and make him cry like a little girl. Then again that might be why she has lived so long.

    Sarah wrote on June 1st, 2011
  27. When I was in the Sudan almost 30 years ago, I noticed some of the People in the southern part of the country were quite tall and thin. Many of the men were well over 6 feet in height. Life expectancy in that country is short and the climate is unhealthy to say the least.

    Joe Jordan wrote on June 1st, 2011
  28. This fully goes along with the creationist point of view. Interesting.

    Brett wrote on June 1st, 2011
  29. As a tall dude, I enjoyed the confidence boost I got from reading this, regardless of whether health and height go hand in hand or not.

    Evan Geiger wrote on June 1st, 2011
  30. “… some researchers have linked “excessive” height to poor health and longevity… there is some evidence that the shorter among us live the longest … Perhaps short stature is more beneficial to women?”

    I have somewhere heard that a researcher looking into greater female than male longevity tried correlating with other things that varied between females and males – like height and weight, smoking, alcohol, etc. He found that, once you adjusted for those, life expectancy was very similar. In other words, the effect making women live longer is indirect, working by affecting either the processes acting on or those driven by height, weight, etc. Even without endocrine problems there is a material downside from being several inches taller than six feet, and a statistically significant one from being taller than just under six feet (see Gary Deagle’s comment).

    P.M.Lawrence wrote on June 1st, 2011
    • Yes, Professor Miller found that taller men did not live as long as women. However, when he compared men and women of the same height, they had the same longevity. I found that among US males and females born around 1980, men lost .5 yr/cm of increased height in life expectancy. This number was found by Miller and Krakauer in Ohio and Swedish studies. In addition, small male dogs live longer than big females dogs. Small male mice also live longer than normal size female siblings.

      thomas samaras wrote on July 13th, 2012
  31. Height does give you some help in business success, but what many people miss is how much charisma can make you more successful.

    Barry wrote on June 1st, 2011
  32. Just remember there are races within the white race. The Alpine Race was shorter in statue (legs, arms and neck, rib cage with bigger lunges) and rather stout.
    For thousands of years they climbed up and down the mountain range. Their bodies evolved within that territory.
    Then you have tribes of people that evolved for thousands of years nomading through the terrain, travelling great distances on foot, growing long legs.
    Then you get the mediteranians who didn’t travel much at all and didn’t climb rocky mountains ever…ended up rather short and delicate compared to the rest of europe.

    So, if a stout swiss marries a long and tall fin, what comes of it?
    Short and white doesn’t always mean you’re malnourished or have otherwise something wrong with you.

    White doesn’t always mean white…us europeans don’t consider Italians ‘white’, but for american standards, they are caucasian. There are many races within the ‘white’ race.
    If that makes any sense.

    Primal Palate wrote on June 2nd, 2011
    • Here are some of the races in Europe:

      Alpine, Baltic, Dinarid, Mediterranean and Nordic.

      Alpine is heavy, broad, short necks, of average height, light skin but not pink.

      Baltic is medium short, round face, fair skin with light eyes.

      Dinarid is the race of the Balkans. That travelled from the middle east to europe and mixed with the other races. This group makes up about 20% of all europeans, especially the central.
      High to medium high tall (depending on with race they mixed with), skin tans easily, slim, slightly aquiline nose.

      Mediterranean is short, finer bones and olive to darker olive skin.

      Nordic has ‘orange’ hair as a base color of the hair. You can see strands of red hair within the regular hair color. Pink skin that flushes easily, athletic build. Blue or green eyes.
      This race is considered the peak of human evolution.

      I’m 5’10” tall, strands of red hair but overall ashy dark blond. Tan easily and only turn pink with the first sun. I have green eyes. I am considered a Dinarid, a mixture of 2 races between the middle east nomads and the nordic.
      This is confirmed by my parents ancestry books (which are original and signed by each parent and passed down generations).
      My fathers family came from the southern balkan region, close to the middle east and my mother’s is from Finland.

      Primal Palate wrote on June 17th, 2011
  33. I see a few posts about Ireland here. I’m Irish and a tall lady at 5ft 8 (173cm) but always being told I look taller. One of my colleagues had me down as a 6 fter! I know a lot of tall girls – though I note some comments on how the Irish are generally short. This is certainly true for the men. Good grief – what went wrong there? How did the Dutch get so tall though with other European countries not following suit. It’s a little curious. I have met quite a few Dutch and it’s true they’re all very very tall!!

    Kate wrote on June 2nd, 2011
    • I should move to Denmark!

      Suvetar wrote on June 18th, 2011
  34. I do not think you can attribute much to being Irish or ‘of Viking descent’ etc. etc. because I am of extremely mixed descent – read mongrel who then marrried someone whose family comes from the Balkans – more mongrel. I’m the runt of the family at 5’9″ and there isn’t a male in the family who is under 6′. Our very mongrel children stand 6′ 6″ and 6′ 1″ and one of them is a duaghter. Americans are short?!?! Not in this family, thanks.

    Kit wrote on June 2nd, 2011
  35. Hi,

    I’d like to respond to comments by other researchers to my findings on height and longevity mentioned in the above excellent article. They state that I ignore the benefits of industrialization. However, I have reported that during the 20th century, industrialized countries saw a large increase in Western diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and many types of cancers. For example, a 600+ page report by the World Cancer Research Fund (2007) stated that until recently, people following their traditional plant-based diets were free of these diseases until they started eating more like the developed world. The famous researcher, Denis Burkitt, MD, in his book: Western Diseases, found little evidence of diseases common to Western countries in the non developed world. He stated that during the 20th century, the industrialized world has experienced an explosive growth in chronic diseases common to the West.

    While non-developed populations have low life expectancy due to high infant mortality, infectious diseases, traumas, and poor medical care, most of the world’s elderly live in non-developed and developed nations. However, when they start developing and adopting increased animal protein and processed foods, they experience sharp increases in Western diseases. For example, a study in rapidly developing India found that young and middle age Indians were experiencing an epidemic of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

    The South African researcher, ARP Walker, also reported that rural South African blacks were free of coronary heart disease and cancer back in the 1970s. These blacks consumed much less food than the general white population in South Africa. They were also substantially lighter and shorter than the white population. Walker found that they could expect to live longer once they reached 50 years of age and they had a higher percent of 100 year olds compared to whites.

    Lindeberg et al. studied people in Kitava, an island off Papua New Guinea, which is one of the least Westernized populations in the world. After 10 years of study, the researchers found these short and thin people were free of coronary heart disease and stroke. The males were 5’4.

    Barry Popkin, Professor of Global Nutrition and Obesity reported recently that the food system developed over the last 150 years by nutritional scientists has had a devastating impact on our health and obesity levels.

    The John Hopkins Medical Letter reported recently that about 50% of Americans over 65 years of age take 5 or more medications a day and 25% take 10 to 20 per day. This doesn’t seem to indicate good health to me. The developed world has done a great job at minimizing infant and childhood mortality but a terrible job in helping us avoid chronic diseases and disabilities. Most of the credit for greater longevity in the developed world goes to improved sanitation, hygiene, food preservation, and avoiding or curing infections and communicable diseases. Modern medicine has also played a major role in keeping the elderly alive and functioning.

    Returning to the criticism that I ignored contrary data, none of the researchers who reviewed my book: Human Body Size and the Laws of Scaling (2007) have said that I presented unbalanced facts. In fact, one reviewer said I was unusually fair in presenting both viewpoints.

    My website lists all my publications. You can make up your own minds. http://www.humanbodysize.com

    Tom Samaras

    thomas samaras wrote on June 2nd, 2011
  36. Not sure if someone posted this or not, as i only read about half the comments, but what about the effects of living in a world not made for you?

    Generally speaking tall people break down earlier, just from anecdotal evidence. Some say thats a sign of genetic weakness or gravity having more of an effect. The last one there i think is absurd personally. Im 6’4″ 208lb. and i have to remind people that tall people are not the norm, and we are living in a world meant for shorties. We are always getting things down from high places, and putting them up there. Cars can be a problem fitting in. Desks in school are often way too small and cause us to have to slouch to be comfortable. All this stuff over the short term is unnoticeable. But over the long term can have a cumulative effect.

    In short (pun), the rest of you need to catch up, so us tall folk can catch a break man!

    Shawn wrote on June 2nd, 2011
    • The heart of a taller, heavier person works harded to pump blood through the body and to greater height. With the exception of the heart and lungs, smaller people have bigger organs in proportion to their weight when compared to comparable taller people of similar builds. Larger organs have a greater functional capacity.

      Another problem with bigger bodies is that they require more cell doublings to produce their bigger bodies as they grow from infancy to adulthood. Thus, taller, bigger people have more cells and have to replace more cells over a lifetime due to damage done by free radicals. The problem is that human somatic cells can only replicate 50 to 70 times in a lifetime. Compared to tall people, a recent study showed that among 90 year olds, the shorter people had more potential cell doublings left to replace defective or dead cells. The shorter 90 year olds also had better survival after that age.

      Tall people should not get upset about this situation. However, they need to take better care of themselves. Avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, consume a healthful low-animal product diet, exercise regularly, regular get health checkups, manage stress, get enough sleep, etc. A healthful lifestyle and some luck with good genes can offset the negative effects of fewer potential cell replications. Many tall people can live a long time.

      thomas samaras wrote on July 13th, 2012
  37. I got stuck in the middle: Dad is 6’8” Mom is 5’4”. Damn!

    Paleo Josh wrote on June 2nd, 2011
  38. Coming from a short family of men I can honestly say they are tougher than most men. bth grandfathers were highly succesful military vets.One of them a pilot and amatuer boxer. My uncle is a race car driver.The toughest guy I knew in school was my hieght,5’7,and state champ wrestler,he was a bulldog.I know women generally dont care for shorter men,thats fine and makes some sense but dont think they cant protect you,its usually the opposite.

    Andrew wrote on June 3rd, 2011
  39. Very interesting article. As a 6’2 woman, I’m always interested to read what height shakes out to, aside from constantly getting asked if I play basketball.

    Tallglassome wrote on June 3rd, 2011
  40. One obvious reason for the stagnation of height increases in the US is the not politically correct observation of massive immigration of short populations since the mid 1970’s.

    It certainly hasn’t been for the lack of calories, a long serving attribution for height tendencies.

    The Dutch, on the other end of the scale, haven’t had the “short peoples immigration” we have had, and their easily accessed universal health care helps insure healthy babies and healthy adults by almost any measure.

    In fact, the US is somewhere around #20 in infant mortality.

    Paul Verizzo wrote on June 4th, 2011
    • That’s wrong on two counts:-

      – In the 1950s the Dutch took in a great many people from the former Dutch East Indies who were no longer safe because they had supported the Dutch.

      – The Dutch have not always had that access to good health care and nutrition. In particular, in the winter of 1944-5 war brought famine to the unliberated parts (so creating a natural experiment, as there was a control population). This did not merely affect those young then or born soon after, since maternal size affects foetal nutrition; the children of those children experienced consequential effects.

      P.M.Lawrence wrote on June 4th, 2011

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