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Growing gains

We are a smug lot really. Yes, admit it, you too look back on generations and centuries past and think we are at the top of an ever improving tree. We smile patronisingly at the cheesy, wholesome sit-coms of the 1950s. We laugh openly at the paisley body-shirt and flares fashion of the 1970s. We shake our heads at the fondue craze of the 1980s. Through it all we assume that the way we are now is just a bit better, a touch more enlightened, and more attuned with the way things really should be. Yes, we are a smug lot and this story is only going to add to that sense of happy superiority because one of the assumptions underlying that smugness is that we are generally healthier than ever before and a new study has shown we are not only healthier but taller as well and it has suggested why this is the case.

The study comes from a researcher who shares his time between the University of Essex in the UK and the Australian National University. As data the researcher used figures gathered on military conscripts and recruits for the decades following from 1870 and then in recent decades leading up to 1980 he used data from cross-sectional surveys.

The study focused on men mainly because the data on women’s height from earlier periods is limited. The analysis showed that the average height for a man has increased by 11 centimetres since 1870.

Additionally, the study found that infant mortality rates dropped from an average 178 per 1,000 births in 1870, to 120 per 1,000 for 1911-15, to 41 per 1,000 by the 1950s, and dropping to only 14 per 1,000 in the late 1970s.

An interesting finding was that during the period between the two World Wars and during the Great Depression there was a distinct increase in the rate of male height increases. This was probably due to drops in fertility at this time since smaller family sizes have been linked to increasing height. The other factors driving the increase in height have been increasing incomes, better hygiene and living conditions, better education about health, improved transport infrastructure, and better health and social service systems.

So there you go, you can look back on your forebears knowing you are cleaner, richer, healthier, and taller than they were. Now you can feel smug and justified at the same time.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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