From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century

Posted: 1 Apr 2004

See all articles by John Komlos

John Komlos

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) - Faculty of Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Marieluise Baur

University of Munich

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Abstract

Within the course of the 20th century the American population went through a virtual metamorphosis from being the tallest in the world, to being among the most overweight. The American height advantage over Western and Northern Europeans was between 3 and 9 cm in mid-19th century, and Americans tended to be underweight. However, today, the exact opposite is the case as the Dutch, Swedes, and Norwegians are the tallest, and the Danes, British and Germans - even the East-Germans - are also taller, towering over the Americans by as much as 3-7 cm. Americans also have shorter lives. The hypothesis is worth considering that this adverse development is related to the greater social inequality, an inferior health care system, and fewer social safety nets in the United States than in Western and Northern Europe, in spite of higher per capita income. The Western and Northern European welfare states, with cradle to grave health and unemployment insurance currently seems to provide a more propitious environment for the biological standard of living than its US counterpart.

Keywords: Height, Biological standard of living, Welfare state, Anthropometry, Social inequality, Health

JEL Classification: D60, I10, I31, J15, N00, P50

Suggested Citation

Komlos, John and Baur, Marieluise, From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century. Economics and Human Biology, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 57-74, March 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=522764

John Komlos (Contact Author)

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Ludwigstrasse 28
Munich, D-80539
Germany

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Marieluise Baur

University of Munich ( email )

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1
Munich, Bavaria 80539
Germany

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