This summer, average height data again confirmed a rather interesting trend. The United States is no longer the tallest country in the world, and is steadily losing ground. The average American's height is 5'9" for men and 5'4" for women. The tallest country in the world is Holland, where the men average 6'0" and the women 5'7". Since the 1950s, American height has plateaued while other countries' height has continued to rise and surpass our own. This trend is troubling because the most likely cause is some shortcoming in the way we nurture our children.
In reading about this further, I found this fascinating article on the phenomenon. Burkhard Bilger reports on the research of John Komlos, an economic historian at the University of Munich who was born in Hungary, grew up in Chicago, and has spent the last quarter century compiling data on the heights of nations.
His research shows that the height of a society is a strong indicator of its health. Throughout history, whenever a society improved its nutrition and general health, its height also grew. One of the things I found most interesting about this is that outside probably the African Pygmies, any population can grow as tall as any other. That means that any difference in average height between say Asians, Scandinavians, Americans, or Mexicans is attributable largely to their diet. While genetics still plays a factor in height differences within population groups, their composite averages are an indicator of their composite well-being.
This leaves us with the question, how could the wealthiest country in the world, during the most robust economic expansion in its history, simply stop growing?