People walking around on the Earth today are taller than their ancestors were. Why is this so? A recent study was done that revealed several reasons you are taller than your ancestors were. Some remarkable things happened in the past 100 years that improved a lot of people’s lives.
Nowadays, it is common for children to become adults who are taller than their parents were. That wasn’t the case for people living four generations ago. A study titled “Health, Height and the Household at the Turn of the 20th Century” was released in April of 2014. The researchers found that humans have grown four inches taller in 100 years time.
The researchers studied information about soldiers who were around the age of 20 and who had enlisted in the army during World War II. Their average height was about five feet and six inches (or 168 centimeters). Today, the average height for men who are around age 20 is five feet ten inches (or 178 centimeters).
What caused that change to happen? One important factor has to do with nutrition. More specifically, it relates to the type of nutrition that a person had access to in childhood. The past 100 years included dramatic improvements in diet. Both the quality and quantity of food increased.
Another important factor has to do with exposure to infection. The researchers found that repeated infection during infancy and childhood resulted in slowed growth. When an infant or child gets an infection, their body has to use energy to fight the disease. Children who had less access to good nutrition may have had more difficulty fighting off infections.
The researchers found that certain infections were predominant among our ancestors. They include pneumonia, bronchitis, diarrhea and dysentery. You don’t hear about many people catching dysentery today. The other infections are still common, but don’t typically result in a long hospital stay or death (in many parts of the world).
Sanitation is another very important factor. Dysentery can be prevented by washing one’s hands with soap and water after using the toilet. It can be passed by exposure to a sick person, or by drinking water that is not clean.
Sanitary reforms helped to improve the quality of our water supply. It also improved the sewer system. This helped to cut down on the spread of disease and infections. The researchers found that many of the men who were soldiers during World War II grew up in incredibly crowded home environments and were exposed to toxic air produced by heavy industry. That, too, limited their height.
Image by Jeff Love on Flickr.
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