Tuesday, July 17, 2007

America No Longer Tallest Country in the World

AP reports:
America used to be the tallest country in the world. From the days of the founding fathers right on through the industrial revolution and two world wars, Americans literally towered over other nations. ... But just as it has in so many other arenas, America's predominance in height has faded. ...

And those height differences translate into real benefits. A number of studies have shown that disease and malnutrition early in life -- the same things that limit a person's height -- increase a person's chances of developing heart disease and other life-shortening conditions later on. Though tall people are more likely to get cancer, they suffer less mortality overall than short people.

International statistics bear it out. Life expectancy in the Netherlands is 79.11 years; in Sweden it's 80.63. America's life expectancy of 78.00 years puts it in somewhat shorter company, just above Cyprus and a few notches below Bosnia-Herzegovina. ...

"American children might consume more meals prepared outside of the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density and low in essential micronutrients," wrote Komlos and co-author Benjamin E. Lauderdale of Princeton University. "Furthermore, the European welfare states provide a more comprehensive social safety net including universal health care coverage."

In the United States, by comparison, an estimated 9 million children have no health insurance.
See also this 2004 New Yorker article, and this 2006 Komlos-Lauderdale paper, and this 2007 paper.

This is being used as an argument for socialized medicine.

The obvious explanation is that the USA has had massive Mexican and Oriental immigration. The study authors don't control for this directly, but have an argument that it is not the explanation. Besides, they argue, except for African pygmies, any population can grow as tall as any other.

I am not convinced. Some European countries have longer life expectancies also, but it is not necessarily because of better diets or better health care. The Dutch used to be shorter that other Euros, and now they are taller, but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with health care.

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