April 28, 2011

Our Species Is Getting Taller, Heavier And Living Longer - But Many In Poor Countries Are Not

I hope none of you reading this and the two articles cited below will lapse into the long ago debunked misconception of evolutionary theory known as Social Darwinism and wrongly think:  "Well this news is not surprising, it's only natural.  It's survival of the fittest."  Please read on....

Improvements in food production and public health over the past 300 years have made us taller, heavier and helped us to live longer.  These changes in the human body have happened more rapidly than in the previous thousands of years of our evolutionary history.  From the link article:

"To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

"Across the Atlantic, at the time of the French Revolution, a 30-something Frenchman weighed about 110 pounds, compared with 170 pounds now. And in Norway an average 22-year-old man was about 5 ½ inches taller at the end of the 20th century (5 feet 10.7 inches) than in the middle of the 18th century (5 feet 5.2 inches)."

Here's how food production and health advances have had their influence:  "(T)he health and nutrition of pregnant mothers and their children contribute to the strength and longevity of the next generation. If babies are deprived of sufficient nutrition in the womb and early in life, they will be more fragile and more vulnerable to diseases later on. These weakened adults will, in turn, produce weaker offspring in a self-reinforcing spiral."  Medical advances, particularly the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases,

Technology Advances; Humans Supersize by Patricia Cohen, a review of The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700 by Robert W. Fogel, et al., available May 31, 2011, The New York Times, April 26, 2011.  Here is the research the Times is reporting on:  Height of Nations:  A Socioeconomic Analysis of Cohort Differences and Patterson among Women in 54 Low- to Middle-Income Countries, Public Library of Science, PLoS One, April 20, 2011.

But not all humans are getting taller.  The height of very poor women in developing countries has been shrinking for the last few decades:  Height:  Very Poor Women Are Shrinking, as Are Their Chances at a Better Life, Donald G. McNeil, Jr., The New York Times, April 25, 2011:  "Height has stagnated or declined over the last decades in low- to middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, suggesting worsening nutritional and environmental circumstances during childhood."

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